TUPD’s increased jurisdiction raises concerns among students of color

Elias Garcia, Contributing Writer

The following is an opinion article, and does not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

The Tulane University Police Department and the New Orleans Police Department formalized a previously oral agreement between the two police forces codifying an increased jurisdiction for TUPD officers. The agreement empowers TUPD to pursue criminal investigations independent of NOPD and grants TUPD officers the power to arrest. This agreement, which took effect on Dec. 3, has also further formalized TUPD and NOPD’s relationship, allowing officers from either department to assist one another when requested.

While portrayed as a victory for public safety by TUPD and NOPD, this recent development has been seen by many students of color as an unnecessary move, and with the rampant racial profiling associated with New Orleans police, could result in an increased alienation and targeting of students of color.

This expansion of TUPD’s power can have negative effects on the mental health as well as the physical security of Tulane students of color. Recently, Alex Williams, a Co-Convener of Students Organizing Against Racism, expressed concerns over the procedure associated with crime reports.

Citing an incident last semester where a crime report was issued after a student falsely claimed he was attacked and robbed by three black men on Calhoun Street, Williams said that she feared that Tulane affiliates could be profiled as criminals and arrested for crimes they had no part in.

Through granting TUPD the power to investigate crimes independent of NOPD and to perform arrests, it is certainly possible  that students of color will be unfairly targeted through the perpetuation of stereotypes that label people of color as criminals.

Tulane hosts a primarily Caucasian student body, and has led seemingly lackluster attempts at increasing ethnic and cultural diversity at the university, evidenced by Tulane’s most recent freshman class, which includes approximately 1,263 Caucasian students, yet only 59 black students and 100 Hispanic students. Additionally, the absence of spaces on campus for students of color to congregate and organize and the lack of institutional support for academic departments that engage in cultural and ethnic studies are symptoms of a larger systemic problem of a lack support for people of color on Tulane’s campus.

Further, there are major concerns that an increased police presence on campus and in the surrounding neighborhoods could negatively impact the mental health of students of color who have been historically disenfranchised and targeted by police forces.

In a report released in 2011, the Department of Justice found that NOPD had routinely violated the constitutional rights of New Orleans citizens through established practices that routinely included the use of excessive force, unnecessary stops, searches and arrests and discriminatory policing which overwhelmingly targeted black citizens, the LGBT community and women.

In past years, TUPD officers have not wielded the same power and privileges afforded to NOPD officers. Expanding TUPD privileges, however, is not the answer to the problem of public safety as TUPD and NOPD have presented it to be. With a history of police discrimination within the city, it is imperative that we seek to align police actions with the policies currently in place, rather than expand police presence as a buffer to address crime.

An additional concern of the new written policy is that the expansion of TUPD jurisdiction into other neighborhoods in New Orleans could negatively impact Tulane’s reputation in the city. The increased police activity within neighborhoods of color can jeopardize the fragile relationship the university already holds with these communities, as TUPD has no accountability to these communities, and there is no reason to increase Tulane police presence in these areas.

With a precedent of discrimination towards people of color on both national and New Orleans-specific levels, it is understandable that empowering TUPD officers raises concerns for students of color, who already face an uncomfortable campus climate.

While TUPD has taken voluntary steps to increase communication and transparency within the department, it is important to understand the historical and rampant discrimination that people of color have suffered from police. It is disheartening that the Tulane administration did not consult with students, specifically students of color, before codifying the current policy.  

Elias Garcia is a sophomore at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected]