Chico State police avoid transparency with the media

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Chico State police avoid transparency with the media

Photo credit: Melissa Joseph

Photo credit: Melissa Joseph

Photo credit: Melissa Joseph

Photo credit: Melissa Joseph

Natalie Hanson

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Chico State’s University Police Department insist they want students to trust them. However, they consistently fail to provide accurate, timely information to students on campus.

Last Sunday, a rumor spread that the Meriam Library had been suddenly evacuated without explanation. As it turned out, the building had been cleared around 2 p.m. when library staff grew suspicious of a man making hand gestures on the fourth floor. The Orion learned this information through our own investigation after hearing this rumor over a 24-hour period because UPD never released information on the situation.

Our reporters went to the library on Sunday, asking employees and students who had been there about the evacuation. Reporters contacted UPD, only to be told that nobody was available to answer questions.

On Monday, several Orion reporters called UPD multiple times, but were told that Chief Reid of University Police was unavailable and that Commander Christopher Nicodemus, who usually answers press questions, was also gone. The daily blotter also did not mention the incident. The Orion was told by UPD that University Communications would be able to answer any questions.

On Tuesday, after releasing our story about the incident online, we were contacted by University Communications, who said that Chief Reid had been available to talk to our reporters “since early morning.” After this message, we attempted to contact him multiple times. When our reporter finally reached him, he was told he had to interview the chief in person and no information could be given over the phone.

The chief confirmed that the evacuation had happened, but that the library’s concern was a false alarm as the man in question did not have a weapon. He also said that the library staff had cleared the building, not UPD.

The sequence of events on that day made it difficult to figure out why the library had been evacuated and spotlighted the issues with UPD’s failure to provide timely information to students.

The Orion has struggled for years to get timely, accurate information from UPD. Despite some productive meetings, this kind of incident makes it feel as if UPD doesn’t care to provide information to students when it is needed most.

To Chico State’s PR department, I believe that targeting The Orion on Twitter is unprofessional. This has happened several times instead of calling or emailing us directly. When we responded, we voiced our concern that it had taken 48 hours to receive safety information about a campus evacuation.

Rather than using Twitter when UPD won’t respond to us, it would be better for the university to make sure that there is someone available to give us the information we need — or just take accountability for the fact that this was an instance in which the university failed to provide information to students in a timely manner.

The difficulty in transparent communication with the university has not been an struggle unique to The Orion. Other news organizations have struggled to get the most basic information from University Police.

As the only news publication that focuses on issues affecting students, we deserve to be treated with more respect when contacting UPD and be provided with more timely information. We have had productive conversations with Chief Reid that have made the process for obtaining information more clear to us.

This is what makes it all the more frustrating when an incident like this occurs. It makes UPD seem disinterested in keeping students informed about events on campus. It also makes it look like UPD doesn’t want to work with the campus newspaper to ensure the accurate, speedy spread of information.

UPD must release information about campus occurrences, particularly ones involving potential threats to student safety, sooner. There should be someone in the office on weekends to provide basic incident information to reporters and concerned students. There should be more accurate reports on the police blotter, rather than vague incident logs — as in this case. In other words, law enforcement should do their part in serving the public.

We appreciate gestures by the police to have better conversations. However, waiting almost 48 hours to provide information about an evacuation on campus, false alarm or not, is too long to wait to provide students with timely information and an accurate story.

We just ran a story about why students might not trust police after a conversation with Chief Reid and conversations with other students. Is this kind of incident going to help change the UPD’s image? That remains to be seen.

Natalie Hanson can be reached at [email protected] or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.

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