Does UNC need more police at student protests? Panel suggests creating mobile units.

A panel of security experts recommended this week that UNC-Chapel Hill invest in officer training and the creation of a “mobile force platoon” to respond to campus violence and civil disobedience.

The panel, which was tasked with reviewing the Silent Sam Confederate statue protests, also recommended that the UNC Board of Governors create a mobile police force to respond to incidents at any campus in the UNC system.

The panel estimated a systemwide force could cost $2 million a year, plus $500,000 initially for equipment. No cost was mentioned for a new UNC Police platoon at the Chapel Hill campus.

The university “faces a high risk of violence, civil disorder and property damage” if the statue is restored to campus, the panel said in its report to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees.

“The capability of the UNC-Chapel Hill Campus Police Department to prevent civil disorder and violence is very limited,” the panel said.

The report was in an appendix to Monday’s Silent Sam proposal to the trustees. Folt did not mention the police recommendations as she talked about a proposed $5.3 million University History and Education Center to house Silent Sam.

The center would have state-of-the-art security and would be a “non-public” forum, allowing UNC to set “content-neutral” restrictions for public safety and the statue’s preservation. It also would offer exhibits and opportunities to learn about the university’s history.

The UNC Board of Governors and the N.C. State Historical Commission still must approve the plan, which Folt said was based on the panel’s security recommendations.

The panel — two former FBI assistant directors, two former police chiefs and a retired major general with the U.S. Army Special Forces Command — was created following the August protests. Panel members referred all questions to UNC public relations officials, who said the panelists would not be available for interviews.

UNC already is under fire for its police response to the Silent Sam protests on McCorkle Place, with student and community protesters telling Chapel Hill’s town government that they don’t feel safe with police on campus.

Maya Little, a graduate student who has been involved in anti-Silent Sam protests, criticized university leaders not only for the proposal to build a new home for the Confederate statue but also for the plan to ramp up police activity against students.

The Board of Trustees and Folt propose that the university spend millions of dollars annually “to increase the policing and surveillance of student and community protesters,” Little said at Monday night’s protest. “This also fits with the university’s and Chapel Hill’s legacy of policing anti-racist activists and its disregard for black people.”

The campus police have not treated neo-Confederates in the same manner, Little said, despite repeated threats against students.

“We already know the police are here to protect neo-Nazis,” she said. “We already know Chapel Hill police and UNC police are not here for us.”

Little was charged Tuesday with assaulting an officer and inciting a riot, following the latest protest.

Lindsay Ayling, a UNC graduate student, told protesters Monday night that they were brave for attending the event. In past events, she said, she has seen friends “slammed on cold brick or put in chokeholds by police for no reason.”

It was not clear whether the proposed UNC platoon or mobile force would be similar to a special Civil Emergency Unit that the Greensboro Police Department sent to help with an Aug. 30 Silent Sam protest at UNC. That unit, specially trained to handle civil uprisings, was blasted for aggressively using bikes to move protesters and for pepper spraying the crowd.

A UNC spokeswoman did not answer questions about the panel’s report — including the definition of a mobile platoon — and said it appeared that a version of this story posted online Wednesday afternoon had answered most of the questions.

“In terms of the proposed mobile command, these are recommendations from the security panel to the University,” spokeswoman Joanne Peters Denny said in an email. “The University is reviewing these recommendations and will evaluate if any necessary next steps are needed.”

UNC’s panel had a different take on what happened, saying some protesters pose a continuing threat, like those “who have acted aggressively and unlawfully.” Most are not associated with UNC, they said.

“Even if our law enforcement resources were at a greatly enhanced level and supported by all available city, town or county mobile forces, such as from Charlotte or Greensboro,” the panel said, “the threat would remain high with respect to both public safety and the ability to preserve the Monument.”

The “greatest risk” is extremists inside protest and counter-protest groups, it said, pointing to an increasing number of threats and calls for violence on social media.

“During these [Silent Sam demonstrations] there was obvious evidence of preplanning and tactics that were designed to instigate violence between protest groups or draw an over-reaction from law enforcement,” the report said.

The “recent decisions of some Orange County judges add to the security risk,” the panel said without elaborating.

Orange County District Court judges Samantha Cabe and Beverly Scarlett so far have dismissed charges or deferred prosecuting those charged in connection with the protests. Those who were found guilty, including Little, did not receive any punishment.

Scarlett has been the most outspoken, comparing Silent Sam to Adolph Hitler and blaming UNC for the protest violence.

But the problem of more campus protests and violence is not limited to UNC, the panel said. Very few campus police departments are equipped to handle the dramatic changes in protests over the past few years, it said.

The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators reports the number of armed officers on college campuses grew 10 percent between 2004 and 2012, outpacing the growth of student enrollment.

Roughly 92 percent of public U.S. colleges with 2,500 or more students and 38 percent of private colleges had police agencies by 2012, U.S. Bureau of Justice surveys show. More recent data was not immediately available.

UNC Police — which has commanded the response to protests on campus — and UNC officials have not answered questions about that response.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice reported in 2015 that the university had 207 full-time employees — including 53 sworn officers — in 2011-12, making it the eighth-largest law enforcement agency on a U.S. college campus. The university also had 126 part-time employees, including 12 part-time sworn officers, the report said.

The Justice Bureau report shows the number of UNC sworn officers is higher than the average of 38 officers reported by many public campuses with 15,000 or more students.

UNC requires new officers to be state certified with 618 hours of Basic Law Enforcement Training and to complete another 48 hours of training for re-certification each year. The agency also is one of 59 college police departments accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, and one of only three accredited agencies in North Carolina, UNC Police have reported.

UNC Police already is making changes, but more training is needed, the panel said, particularly in intelligence gathering, crowd control, protest management and operational plans. UNC also should improve its mutual aid relationships with agencies that can provide “mob field force units,” the panel said.

UNC has mutual aid agreements with law enforcement agencies in Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough and Durham; Chatham, Orange and Durham counties; and six UNC system universities, according to the agency’s annual security report.

But the panel warned against relying too much on other agencies, because there could be challenges, from not being able to respond on short notice to political pressure and the growing cost of large-scale protest responses.

Chapel Hill Chief Blue told the Town Council in September that the first two protests “had a significant impact on local resources” and staff, and that it was “not a sustainable proposition.”

Who are the experts?

Chris Swecker, a Charlotte attorney and former FBI assistant director.

Jane Perlov, former NYPD Chief of Detectives for the Queens Borough, Massachusetts Secretary of Public Safety and Raleigh police chief.

Louis Quijas,former FBI assistant director and High Point chief of police.

Johnny Jennings, deputy police chief for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Edward Reeder, a retired major general with the U.S. Army Special Forces Command and CEO of Five Star Global Security.

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Jane Stancill has reported on higher ed for The News & Observer for 20 years. She has won state and national awards for her coverage of education.
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Tammy Grubb has written about Orange County’s politics, people and government since 2010. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.