Ever since the off-campus, fatal shooting of University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) honors student Cameron Redus in December 2013, the UIW student body has been searching for answers – answers about what went wrong. Why did an unarmed student steps away from his off-campus apartment deserve to be shot five times at close range by a campus police officer?
This incident has shaken the student body to its core. Many are anxious to see fundamental changes that will safeguard the lives of current students and prevent this kind of tragedy from ever happening again. With these concerns in mind as the UIW Student Body President, I created the Student Safety Committee to explore areas of improvement and to address various safety issues on campus. Over the past few months, I have met with university administrators, faculty members, and student representatives to solicit input from all sides. These meetings, in conjunction with the Safety Committee’s meetings, led a list of recommendations for the reformation of UIWPD’s policies.
UIW Campus police officers should be trained in the same standard operating procedures utilized by SAPD, and be informed about the proper escalation of force.
All campus police officers should be equipped at all times with non-lethal tools, including tasers and pepper spray, in addition to their firearms.
A UIWPD representative must be present at all SGA General Assemblies to answer questions students might, and a student representative must have a permanent seat on the hiring committee for UIWPD officers.
All UIWPD vehicles must be clearly marked as police vehicles with visible decals on all sides. They should feature working light bars situated atop vehicles, as well as PA/announcement systems, which should be utilized to communicate with students during routine traffic pullovers.
View the UIW Student Government Association’s Recommendations for the UIW Campus Police here in its entirety here.
After hearing these recommendations, Faculty Senate President Ramona Parker and several other university representatives encouraged me to meet face-to-face with UIW Chief of Police Jacob Colunga. They recommended that I share the Student Government Association’s recommendations with him and request his input. We all agreed that it was important to hear all sides and develop a set of recommendations acceptable to administrators, students, and UIWPD.
After several attempts to schedule a meeting with UIWPD, I finally met with Chief Colunga on April 16. When I arrived at their headquarters, located on the bottom floor of Clement Hall Dormitory, I was greeted by Chief Colunga and Michael Agnese, director of public safety and the brother of UIW President Dr. Louis J. Agnese. Although I wasn’t aware that Agnese would be in attendance, I wasn’t surprised by his presence either, since he had attended previous meetings.
Our meeting began routinely, as I addressed on-campus parking issues and proposed ticketing reform policies from the previous semester. Both parties had no problem discussing these issues at length. Although we weren’t in agreement on every topic, we were certainly able to voice our own concerns and negotiate certain aspects of ticketing policies and parking reform.
When it came time to discuss the Student Safety Committee’s proposed reform measures, I presented our three-page document to Chief Colunga and Agnese. Although I did not expect them to completely agree with all the committee’s recommendations, I was not prepared for what happened next.
Agnese spent a few moments while flipping through the recommendations and letting out some chuckles at our suggestion that officers undergo mandatory annual physical fitness testing. He then closed the document, pushed it back towards me, and said that “we” were not going to discuss the recommendations further and that I should drop the subject altogether.
Puzzled, I questioned why he would make such a statement. He said that the recommendations were administrative issues, not UIWPD issues, and as such he wasn’t at liberty to discuss anything on the reform list. He suggested I meet with members of the administration or with the university’s legal counsel if I wanted to pursue these reform measures. I informed him that it was members of the administration that first suggested this meeting with the police department. Despite this, Agnese refused to discuss our recommendations.
I stated that I was simply trying to address the student body’s safety concerns and pointed out that none of our recommendations directly mentioned Cameron Redus or the actual shooting.
Agnese stopped me at this point and became quite animated. He stated that “everything” had to do with the shooting and that I couldn’t separate our recommendations from the incident because they were inexorably intertwined. Agnese made it clear that he would not discuss our recommendations. After “deliberating” a bit longer with Agnese, I realized he wasn’t going to budge and the meeting wasn’t going anywhere. I thanked them for their time and took my leave. Throughout most of this entire heated discussion, UIW Police Chief Colunga sat silently.
I left feeling very discouraged that, despite our months of hard work developing these recommendations and meeting with various UIW administrators and students, Agnese and the UIW Police Department would not discuss the matter.
As Student Body President, my duty is to stand up for students of this university to ensure their concerns are heard. It became painfully obvious that Agnese wasn’t interested in the students’ opinions and therefore was not willing to act upon them.
Despite this setback, we continued to develop our recommendations by gathering various opinions from administrators and students. Last week, I presented the final draft of the Student Safety Committee’s recommendations to the student General Assembly and Senate. After months of deliberating on proper wording and procedural changes, all three branches of UIW’s student body agreed on four recommendations for immediate implementation.
We will now forward the list of recommendations, fully backed by the students, to the administration. I can only hope the administration will honestly consider our recommendations and work with students to reform the UIW Police Department. I am optimistic: If we work together, we can bring about positive change on our campus and make UIW a safer place for all.
If you are interested in voicing your opinion about this matter, I urge you to contact Michael Agnese directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or Chief Colunga at email@example.com and encourage them to address the concerns of the student body by considering our recommendations.