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Ohio University Police Chief Andrew Powers

Ohio University Police Chief Andrew Powers

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Chief Powers issues message in response to Feb. 1 events


Ohio University Police Chief Andrew Powers issued the following message to the OHIO community on Feb. 9, 2017.

Dear students, faculty and staff,

In the wake of protests around the country, and the arrests that occurred at Baker Center on February 1, I am writing to clarify some points of confusion and provide important information about protests in general.

Ohio University is a public institution whose property is open to everyone. Even so, the University has the right to regulate the use of its space by time, place, and manner. As such, the gathering on February 1 was unlawful because it impeded the use of the space for its intended purpose, created a safety hazard should an evacuation have been necessary, and disrupted planned activities in adjacent spaces. OUPD used a megaphone to make five (5) announcements over a 40-minute period asking those assembled to move to one of four legal spaces or face arrest. In addition, one of the organizers also used a megaphone to tell the crowd, “If you are not OK with being arrested you should leave.” 70 people refused to leave the rotunda and were subsequently arrested.

Much has been made of the fact that the protest was peaceful, a fact I don’t dispute. However, peaceful does not always mean legal. The fact that the protest was peaceful allowed us to handle the situation with minimal force, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have responded at all. The police often find ourselves facing a no-win proposition in these situations: if we make arrests before illegal behavior turns violent, we are criticized for arresting peaceful protestors. If we wait until the situation deteriorates, we are criticized for not keeping control. It is my desire as police chief to always handle situations at the lowest level, with the least amount of force. To that end, I will always err on the side of safety whenever possible by intervening before an illegal situation becomes violent or requires significant force.

In addition to comments about the peaceful nature of the protest, there have also been questions about our reason for making arrests, especially by comparing February 1 to a 2014 protest in the same space. Suffice to say that despite some similarities, there are substantial differences between the two events. Some have implied that the federal executive order issued on January 27, or the officers’ personal views, led to a different outcome. Nothing could be further from the truth. OUPD officers are not federal employees, so that executive order does not apply to us and has no impact on the way we do our job. Furthermore, we make arrests during protests to address illegal behavior, not because of the views being expressed. As I mentioned earlier, if a time, place, or manner restriction is violated — as in this case — the assembly is unlawful, regardless of the reason for it.

Finally, I have been asked about dropping the charges against the people arrested. In response, I would point out that our legal system was set up to ensure an independent, impartial review of police actions by a court. To that end, I believe the proper course of action is to allow that review to take place — as we do with everyone else we arrest each year — rather than subverting our judicial process by dropping the charges.

As we look to the future, it is worth remembering that issues can often be addressed without the need for illegal behavior. Change can begin with dialogue. Schedule a meeting with administrators, participate in the shared governance process on campus, or call a local politician to express your views. If these methods aren’t satisfactory, legal demonstrations held in reserved spaces or with parade permits can be effective forms of protest activity. When planning a protest, ask us for help. We are more than willing to work with community members to plan safe and legal demonstrations; we would rather work with people than arrest them.

In closing, I would like to stress that today OUPD remains just as committed to everyone in our community as we have ever been, and I will be reaching out to constituent groups across campus in the coming days to underscore that support and offer to meet with concerned members. Our officers work at OUPD by choice, not by assignment. Every one of us is here because we have chosen to be a part of this university and the larger community and we are committed to it. We have not strayed from that commitment, nor will we in the future. If you haven't already, take a moment to get to know us by following us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. No matter what, remember we're here for everyone and we're here to help. We're your police department. 

Sincerely,

Andrew D. Powers
Chief of Police
powersa@ohio.edu