Board of Trustees votes to begin hearings on WCC police department

By Iván Flores
Staff Writer

Scott Hilden, chief of public safety, presented a proposal to implement a fully certified police department at Washtenaw Community College to the Board of Trustees Friday. Michigan law requires that at least two public hearings be held and an oversight committee be established before such a resolution is actually adopted.  The Board of Trustees voted 5-2 to hold the required meetings. They are scheduled for March 28 and April 25. However, Trustee Dave DeVarti, who voted against the measure, vowed to delay the process on grounds that the public was not adequately informed about proceedings.

Hilden’s proposal calls for four police officers at an annual cost of $367,000 with an additional one-time startup cost of $93,000 for equipment and training. No mention was made about the cost of insurance.

Hilden mentioned the officers would be handpicked from retired law enforcement. Their training would be specific to a college environment and would include training to deal with implicit bias, and interaction with students with disabilities.

Unlike other Michigan universities and community colleges of similar size, WCC does not have its own police department or armed guards.

Hilden was hired in January after retiring from the Canton Police Department, where he oversaw the School Resource Officer program for 15 years. He cited a number of incidents during his tenure at WCC which have led him to believe the school is not prepared to deal with emergencies. Among those incidents Hilden cited were an armed robbery outside of the Business Education building and threats made by mentally unstable students.

The Board of Trustees was not prepared for a vote to proceed with public inquiry. A last minute motion to amend the agenda for such a vote was met with opposition by trustees Ruth Hatcher and Dave DeVarti.

Hatcher had concerns about the checks and balances on the police force. The law requires an oversight committee made of two staff members and two faculty, which she said was insufficient.

Hatcher said that she, “would not be bullied,” to support any measure to advance Hilden’s proposal on such short notice, and without a discussion about oversight and protection for minority students.  She said that her son had been intimidated by WCC campus security, and was not ready to see them armed.

Trustee Diana McKnight, who supports the proposal, countered that she had her own unpleasant encounters with the law enforcement, saying that her autistic grandson had been handcuffed by the Ann Arbor Police Department. McKnight argued that although the procedural motion was unusual, enough discourse has happened on campus safety over the past year to justify advancing the proposal. Citing concerns about safety on campus, McKnight said further delay was unacceptable.

DeVarti said the whole proposal was being rushed, and likened it to the “secret” federal Republican healthcare bill. He said that because the vote was not on the board’s agenda, amending it on the spot and voting to advance the proposal without giving the public notice was illegal. A lawyer for the college said otherwise. However, Devarti said he would seek legal council to undo the vote over the weekend, which could potentially delay the public hearing dates.

UPDATE March 14: Responding to procedural technicalities, the Washtenaw Community College Board of Trustees overturned a motion to begin public hearings for a campus police department. According to Trustee Christina Fleming, the repeal happened the day after the initial vote. However, she said the formalities might not affect the dates for the hearings, previously set for March 28 and April 25.

In an email to the Washtenaw Voice, Fleming said, “We can still hold the public hearings and they will still go forward as far as I know at this point.”

Dave DeVarti, who voted against the original motion, was not present the day it was repealed. He said he was looking for legal council to overturn the original motion and was unaware it had been overturned.

According to DeVarti, the board violated its own bylaws when it amended the agenda to allow the hearings.

Trustee Richard Landau denied DeVarti’s claim, and said nothing was done inappropriately. He said the motion, which only formalized the hearings,  was not a legal requirement and that it was overturned to assuage the two dissenting board members. The administration has yet to submit a detailed plan for implementing a police department, but will do so at the request of the board chairwoman.

An updated version of this story has been published as part of the March 20 print edition of the Voice.

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