Wittenberg Police Respond to Letter to the Editor

Responding to an email sent out to faculty and staff last semester that appears in today’s Torch, Wittenberg Police Chief Jim Hutchins denied that the department discriminates against black students, and said it is actively attempting to move forward toward bettering the relationship between students and police on campus.

“We’re ready to make sure that none of our students are excluded or even feel excluded, and we need to understand to do that,” Hutchins said. “We need to talk and to be together.”

Hutchins addressed specifics of the email, first commenting on the accusation that Wittenberg P.D. verbally harassed one student and pulled a student over because he didn’t have his lights on, and then unfairly treated him.

“On both those incidents, the officers did have body cams on,” Hutchins said. “They’re instructed to record anything that could be controversial or anything where they are taking any enforcement action. That way, we have a recording of what actually happened.”

Both the audio and camera face straight ahead, so Hutchins said that it “gives a pretty good account of what occurred.”

Hutchins personally reviewed the case, along with his supervisor, and both concluded that there weren’t any violations of police protocol.

In regards to the letter’s claim that three police encounters out of the six during the fall semester were with black students, Hutchins confirmed that two of the encounters between police and students were with black males. For protective reasons due to FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act], he could not provide anything else.

Hutchins also defined his interpretation of an encounter as something that can mean a variety of things, including an interaction that could include positive or non-enforcement interactions.

“We have had at least three encounters with black students during the time,” Hutchins said. “I can’t give details on people, but I would say that the two that they talked about – those were black students.”

As to the student that was arrested – an incident that was not mentioned directly in the article – Hutchins said that the student was never incarcerated – only held for an hour. The student was arrested for obstructing police business and was only arrested after having a warrant issued by the court.

“Initially, he was charged and I reviewed it and contacted the prosecutor because I felt like it was something that should’ve been handled internally instead of going through the criminal justice system,” Hutchins said. “The prosecutor agreed that he would drop the charges.”

Another allegation in the email had to do with a stop for a suspected DUI. According to Hutchins, the standard procedure for checking for a DUI includes: identifying a vehicle that is operating in a potentially hazardous manner (i.e. going through a red light or not stopping at a stop sign), stopping the car and talking to the driver, then, if the situation proceeds, performing a sobriety test.

“If they give us indicators that they are impaired, then we would ask them out to do a field sobriety test,” Hutchins said. “Once we determine whether we felt they were impaired or not impaired, if they weren’t impaired, then we would send them on their way.”

The police might issue a citation for the original stop, but nothing further than that. If the person pulled over was impaired, the police would read them the 2255 form of their rights, that they’re under arrest, and ask them to take a chemical test.

Then, the arrested will be taken to a local data master who performs a breathalyzer at a patrol post or a place like the Clark County jail. These tests need to be performed at a place that is certified.

Some of the sobriety tests that the Wittenberg police use are a gaze test, the walk and turn, and leg stand.

When pulling over a car on campus, Hutchins stated that the police not only check for a driver’s license, but for a Wittenberg I.D. as well. In any case, Wittenberg P.D. want to verify that the person they are talking to has a valid state I.D. and a Wittenberg I.D., proving that the police are talking with a Wittenberg student.

“We need to verify they have a driver’s license for operation purposes and then the Witt I.D., we want to know if this is one of our students,” Hutchins said.

No matter the situation, Hutchins denied that the Wittenberg police department purposely targets black males.

“We review every report that comes in and we’ll randomly look at videos, but if a report comes in that looks like it might have been a little bit more than a normal interaction with a student, then we’ll review that video to ensure that we didn’t see anything that was wrong,” Hutchins said of himself and fellow Lieutenant Lee McCartney.

“Now, that being said, there’s still people who are upset, so we need to understand what we need to do so that we represent all of our students,” Hutchins said. “We need to be there to help them – that’s what we’re here for. We’re not here to have a confrontational relationship. It’s imperative that we do things that ensure that we’re not inadvertently doing things that are causing this.”

Hutchins has plans to reenergize the Police Advisory Committee, to better and continue diversity training on the police force, and to begin forming a relationship with all Wittenberg students – including attending more student events and interacting with students more frequently.

“We need to make sure that we’re not doing things that could be perceived as showing a bias,” Hutchins said.

Hutchins mentioned that he is personally looking into studies across the nation of racial bias and trends from within the police force to educate himself and his fellow officers.

“As much as I don’t like the way that this came out, it’s a great opportunity for us to learn more about our students and to learn more about where they come from,” Hutchins said.

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