Tuesday, December 7, 2021

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

The names of the resident assistants have been changed to protect their jobs with the university. 

Some resident assistants have pushed back after learning there would be armed rounds done by MSUPD in residential housing. 

From Aug. 15 to Aug. 25, then-Deputy Chief Traci Ruiz headed a training through the Michigan State University Police Department’s, or MSUPD's, Community Engagement Bureau. It was in this training that the RAs learned of the department’s initiative to complete rounds in the dorms. 

In this case, rounds refer to members of MSUPD walking around residential halls alongside RAs.

MSU Deputy Spokesperson Dan Olsen clarified that the police presence around campus was a part of an initiative to encourage more community engagement and that police officers were not doing rounds with the RAs.

"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," MSUPD inspector Chris Rozman said in an email statement. "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 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. 

"Ms. Ruiz is no longer an employee of MSU Police and Public Safety of Michigan State University," Rozman said. "As this personnel matter, we are not able to provide any additional information."

Chief Communications Officer of Residential and Hospitality Services, or RHS, Kat Cooper said MSUPD was interested in being "more collaborative" with RHS and would be interested in going on additional rounds with RAs.

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.

“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 MSUPD afterward. 

“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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MSUPD officers have previously spent time in residential halls, but their presence would not be announced, Cooper confirmed.

“MSU police have a presence in our residence halls, they always have,” Cooper said. “They don't walk around the halls with RAs as rounds.”

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

"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.

“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.

But Tanya doesn't buy it.

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

Editor's note: This article was updated at 7:10 p.m., Oct. 21 to reflect that the officers had never done armed rounds with the RAs and only engaged in outreach initiatives. However, some RAs still received training for police officers to go on armed rounds with them.

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