Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Resident assistants push back against armed rounds in dorms

October 21, 2021
<p>Michigan State Police Department on Oct. 12, 2021.</p>

Michigan State Police Department on Oct. 12, 2021.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

Some resident assistants pushed back after learning about a plan to have them accompany MSUPD officers conducting armed rounds in residential housing. 

MSU says the armed rounds ultimately did not happen. 

From Aug. 15 to Aug. 25, then-Deputy Chief Traci Ruiz headed a training through the Michigan State University Police Department’s Community Engagement Bureau. It was in this training that the RAs said they were informed about the department’s intent to conduct the rounds in dorms. 

Ruiz is no longer employed by MSUPD..

MSU Deputy Spokesperson Dan Olsen said the police presence was intended to be part of an initiative to encourage more community engagement, but officers never ended up doing rounds with the RAs.

In an email, MSUPD inspector Chris Rozman said: “Police officers are encouraged to walk both academic buildings and residence halls during their shift to interact and engage with members of our Spartan community. Officers refer to this as ‘footbeat.' ... They are not encouraged and do not as a matter of routine walk the residential living areas of our campus buildings."

Ruiz, who headed the disputed training, was put on administrative leave the following week, with no reason cited by the department. On Oct. 20, Rozman confirmed Ruiz is no longer an employee with MSUPD or the university. 

“We have since learned that some content presented during presentations did not meet our expectations for how we should interact with students in our community,” Rozman said.

Chief Communications Officer of Residential and Hospitality Services, or RHS, Kat Cooper said MSUPD was interested in being "more collaborative" with RHS.

It didn’t feel like collaboration to some RAs, however. 

“When we were training with them, they weren’t training us,” Bob, an RA living in River Trail Neighborhood, said. “They were telling us their ideas and what they were planning on doing.”

MSUPD didn’t think RAs would push back, Bob said. Armed officers have always had a presence in residence halls, but the resident assistants objected to being part of the process.

The main thing everyone was saying was, 'You don’t need your guns to do rounds.' … But they said, ‘No, we have to,’” Bob said.

After the training, supervisors in River Trail Neighborhood held separate meetings. RAs made jamboards explaining their concerns.

In an email, Cooper confirmed these jamboards were sent to MSUPD. 

Tanya, a South Neighborhood RA, said no meetings with supervisors were held regarding the resident assistants’ concerns about the MSUPD training. 

“They didn't talk about it that much, it just really circulated between RAs,” Tanya said.

Since the training, MSU has not communicated with RHS regarding the initiative, Cooper said.

MSUPD has no staff liaison to Resident Education and Housing Services. 

“For a really long time, (the university) has been very bad at communication from top down,” Mariya, an RA from Brody Neighborhood, said. “It’s not my direct supervisor, or their supervisor. It's top down.” 

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When MSUPD visited dorms in the past, they were armed, Rozman said.

"MSU police officers do carry a weapon while protecting our community, for the officers’ own safety and to provide emergency response and other vital services," he said in an email statement. "Even when there may appear to be no imminent threat, many situations are unpredictable, and officers must be prepared."

However, Tanya said, when the visits happen, it is never communicated to RAs.

“We have these trainings with RAs at the beginning of the year so they can get to know the police so they know they're going to be around, they're part of our community,” Cooper said. “But RAs don't get an email that says, 'The police will be here tonight,' because they're always around.”

Tanya said there have been times where MSUPD has shown up without alerting the RAs. They said it happened twice during the past spring semester.

“One time, I just went immediately to my room," they said. "I didn't want to talk to the cop. The second time, it was a female officer … I said, ‘Hi, I'm the resident assistant on this floor. Could you tell me what's going on, is something wrong?’ She was just in full uniform. I've always seen them in full uniform in the dorms.”

Tanya said the officer told her nothing was wrong.

“I felt like that was a lie because why would she be there?” Tanya said. “It was a very odd time. … Afternoon-ish.”

Mariya said it wasn't new for officers to do random rounds in the buildings. 

“They’ve been doing them for a long time,” Mariya said. “What was different was how officers would do those rounds with RAs. They wanted to make it more frequent. Before, I’ve only seen police officers doing rounds in my buildings twice the whole year. … It is something that has happened in the past, and is part of their protocol.”

They reiterated RAs weren’t alerted when MSUPD did these rounds during the past years, but they wish MSUPD would communicate more. 

“They don't do those things on purpose because they know people aren't gonna like what they're doing,” Mariya said. “They are purposely not telling us because they don't want us to know.”

MSUPD officers have never been required to perform rounds in the residence halls, Rozman said.

“As part of our efforts to engage with our community, we encourage our officers to get out of their cars and walk around, and meet the community and to engage in meaningful conversation,” he said in an email. “While these conversations may sometimes take place in a residence hall, we have never mandated that our officers perform rounds in the residential living areas.”

It is unknown if Ruiz was allowed to reveal information regarding armed rounds to RAs.

“I think it's really suspicious, after the info (Ruiz) told us, that she was put on administrative leave,” Tanya said.


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