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City backtracks on off-campus activity by UC Police, citing need for community feedback

UC Police are allowed to patrol in a specific off-campus area (outlined in black) where there's a high concentration of student housing.
UC Police
UC Police are allowed to patrol in a specific off-campus area (outlined in black) where there's a high concentration of student housing.

An update to the agreement that allows the University of Cincinnati Police to patrol in neighborhoods near campus is now on hold pending more community engagement.

A memorandum of understanding between UCPD and the city of Cincinnati was last updated in 2009. UCPD stopped doing off-campus traffic stops in 2015 after then-officer Ray Tensing killed motorist Sam DuBose. (All off-campus activity was suspended for about a month).

The updated MOU was finalized this week, but City Manager Paula Boggs Muething backtracked soon after, saying in a statement Thursday the process didn't meet the city's standards for community engagement.

"In an effort to further engage stakeholders, community members, and incoming policy makers, we will pause the adoption of this agreement to solicit additional feedback," Boggs Muething said. "[W]e understand there are concerns that remain to be heard on this urgent matter of public safety. We look forward to these conversations and hearing more feedback. In the meantime, we will continue to operate under the previous MOU until that process is complete."

Iris Roley, co-founder of the Black United Front and a member of the City Manager's Advisory Group, says much more community engagement is needed.

"It is very critical that the voices of the citizens that live inside of the city of Cincinnati — and not just at the university level or in Clifton — have a voice and be aware of any changes that are being made to any agreement between the city and the university police department," Roley says.

It's not clear what form the promised engagement will take, or when that might happen.

UCPD Chief James Whalen says the updated MOU has been under development for a few years, and it doesn't change anything about how the department currently operates.

"It clarifies jurisdictional lines, it memorializes in writing the traffic stop and pedestrian stop on low level enforcement provision that city council imposed back in 2015," Whalen says. "It simply maintains what we've been doing for about the last six years."

The new MOU keeps the prohibition on traffic and pedestrian stops, and says a UC officer can only take action off campus if they observe certain crimes or in an emergency.

Whalen says the new MOU matches current practice, which is to only engage when there's an immediate risk of harm.

"A reckless driver, drunk driver, hit-skip getting away, a car wanted for a robbery, something like that," Whalen says. "We do not do traffic enforcement, we don't do speeders, or license plates or anything like that."

The agreement gives on-duty UCPD officers "full authority to enforce state laws" within a specific boundary near campus, where there's a high concentration of student housing.

Officers can do "visibility patrols" and can intervene in certain circumstances:

  • If a UCPD officer views a felony offense, or otherwise has reasonable suspicion to believe that a felony has occurred or is about to occur
  • If a UCPD officer views a misdemeanor offense of violence and/or theft offense or otherwise has reasonable suspicion to believe a misdemeanor of violence and/or theft offense has occurred or is about to occur

The MOU says UC officers must immediately notify CPD of any action they initiate off-campus, except during an emergency "in which there is no practical time for a request in advance to be made."
Read the full MOU update below (story continues after):

Chief Whalen says he's proud of the reform efforts accomplished within UCPD over the past six years.

"There were issues around policy training and supervision that needed to be updated and implemented [and] we did all that work," he says. "And during this time, we got ourselves internationally accredited. We got ourselves in good standing with the state of Ohio's collaborative. We've built relationships, I think, better with our stakeholders, our communities, and our business association."

A Citizen Compliance Council oversaw the implementation of 276 reform recommendations, which Whalen says are all complete.

Whalen says within the off-campus jurisdiction where UCPD patrols, crime is down compared to both last year and the three-year average.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.