By Andrew Milliken
The circumstances surrounding the death of Michael Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson have been in and out of headlines both print and electronic since it occurred Aug. 9.
An issue stemming from last summer’s events in Ferguson, Mo., was police detention of journalists on grounds that were, according to journalists and photographers, infringements on the media’s responsibility to film police and the public’s right to know.
Being able to know what the police are up to is fundamental to the difference between a democracy and a police state. How else are we as a society to ensure that those who enforce the law do so fairly?
Enter Lt. Douglas Campbell, Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s head of criminal investigations and recently appointed interim director of public safety on the campus.
One would expect relations between IUP police and IUP students to be occasionally tense, especially given the school’s reputation as a party school and its students’ newsworthy activities during last year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Lately, however, Campbell has taken the initiative to shut out the IUP student body and to refer all inquiries to Michelle Fryling, IUP’s spokeswoman.
In a March 3 email exchange with an IUP faculty member, Campbell said the IUP Police Department’s policy involving news media requests was restricted to the daily press releases.
“Information placed on the press release is the only information that will be shared,” Campbell’s email reads.
Why on earth do campus police think that they can refuse to divulge information to the constituents they are sworn to protect?
Other potentially unsavory Indiana police activity involves this week’s IUPatty’s Day celebrations. Due to last year’s P.R. debacle, the university and the surrounding borough took action to avoid another one.
Indiana area landlords and the police were, according to a March 15 headline in The Indiana Gazette, girding for this weekend.
This girding actually started back in August when, according to the Aug. 6 edition of The Gazette, IUP hosted a meeting with the Indiana Borough Council and landlords of student rental properties.
The Gazette reported that 665 landlords were invited and that “discussion will not be open to the general public or the news media in order to encourage a more free exchange of ideas and comments.”
This is an apparent violation of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act.
In a March 15 email, one IUP student tenant received a reminder from her landlord that “your chances of getting in trouble over Homecoming, Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day are exponentially higher than the other weekends of the year.”
IUP clearly expected landlords to inform area police of parties on their properties at the drop of a hat. Likewise, even casual partiers expected the police to suffocate them.
With Ferguson cycling back through the headlines, Doug Campbell and Michelle Fryling would do well to wake up and re-examine exactly who has a right to know what at IUP.
Andrew Milliken, of McClellandtown, is a senior music major and journalism minor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
This opinion aired March 22 on the WIUP-FM local news program The Hawk Report.