Leaders of the South’s first historically black college want to invite city police to a permanent home on campus.
Shaw University President Tashni-Ann Dubroy is asking Raleigh to open a police “substation” in one of its buildings just south of downtown. Dubroy said she thinks the move could improve public safety in the area and help students build relationships with police officers.
The request comes at a time of tense relations between the black and law enforcement communities. Some residents protested Raleigh police after an officer shot and killed a young black man named Akiel Denkins just south of Shaw’s campus last February. Mayor Nancy McFarlane later held public meetings, called “Community Conversations,” in November as an effort to restore the public's trust in police and government.
Dubroy requested the substation in a letter to McFarlane on Sept. 29, about a week after police found a man shot to death just off campus at South Blount and East Lenoir streets.
“We are in the process of analyzing space and cost logistics for such a program, but preliminary data suggests that this kind of partnership would likely reduce the area’s most common offenses (assault and theft) while offering officers strategic positioning to respond to more serious crimes,” Dubroy wrote.
“Second, and perhaps most importantly, we believe that a substation would showcase Raleigh as a national leader in the effort to strengthen relationships between communities and police officers, which as you know, is at a critical point in North Carolina and communities nationwide.”
Shaw has about 1,900 students, 1,050 of which live on campus, according to Stan Elliott, vice president of student affairs. The university also employs 17 security guards and eight campus police officers – but they have jurisdiction only on Shaw property, Elliott said.
The university held focus groups with students and residents about the idea of a police substation and received mostly positive feedback, Elliott said.
“It could lead to internships, part-time jobs. They love the idea,” he said. “The idea of a substation being there would make them feel a whole lot safer.”
But some students wonder if such a move could do more harm than good.
“The police drive past our school everyday, so I don’t see the point,” said Temi Akinyemi, a Shaw junior. “That would just make us feel uncomfortable.”
The university should spend less time trying to monitor student behavior and more time investing in the school, said James Crawford, a junior from Fayetteville.
“We’re generalized enough as it is,” Crawford said. “I don’t think that would create a healthy environment.”
Even if city police were patrolling campus, Shaw freshman Brianna Jennings of Wallace doesn’t think it would prevent drug deals and other petty crime around campus.
“Campus police walk by everyday, and it doesn’t stop anything,” Jennings said.
Theoretically, there’s nothing to stop the students from routinely calling city police instead of campus police now, said Guy-Uriel Charles, the founding director of the Duke Law Center on Law, Race and Politics. Welcoming more city police could be a more efficient way of dealing with complaints, “even if it changes the tenor of the school a little bit,” Charles said.
Charles declined to comment on whether placing a police substation on the Shaw campus is a good idea, but noted in general that a permanent police presence on the campus of a historically black university might not improve relations between police and students.
“If it’s a college with a recent history of assaults or situations in which people feel unsafe, I would view this response as a legitimate remedy. But we would also have to ensure that our students are safe from the local police,” he said. “If it’s a college where there’s not a problem … I would think that there would be a bad idea to create an opportunity to raise those tensions.”
It’s unclear whether Dubroy’s request will come to fruition.
The City Council would likely have final say over the request, said Jim Sughrue, the police department’s spokesman. But first, the department plans to research the feasibility of the idea and make a recommendation.
“The request to operate a unique Field Operations Division facility outside the existing district structure is one that must be considered carefully,” Sughrue wrote in an email.
The Raleigh Police Department doesn’t have small satellite stations like the one Shaw wants, and the area around Shaw already has “a significant police presence,” Sughrue added. He says the area encompassing Shaw is well-patrolled.
“Specialty units are available to respond to the beat encompassing Shaw and elsewhere to augment beat coverage, and officers performing secondary (off-duty) employment are sometimes nearby in the southern end of the downtown district, and they provide additional eyes and ears,” he added.
Councilman Corey Branch, who represents Southeast Raleigh, said he wants to hear from the police department before making a decision.
“I think it’s a good idea to have police in areas, but we have to make sure we’re using taxpayers’ money wisely,” Branch said.
Asked if he thought such a move would heighten tensions between police and Shaw students, Branch responded, “Well, this was at the request of the university.”