Morgan State University leaders on Monday said they found concerns expressed by the union for its police officers “unexpected and surprising,” after the union called for changes within the police department following MSU’s third homecoming week shooting in as many years.
A week after an Oct. 3 shooting that wounded five people, including four Morgan State students, sworn Morgan State police officers sent a letter from their union to university leaders requesting an “urgent” reevaluation of the department’s approach to policing and “questionable decision-making” by Chief Lance Hatcher and the other four members of his command staff.
The 11-page letter cites issues such as police staffing shortages, a failure to “properly” equip on-duty officers and a lack of critical access to all areas on campus, making for a hostile work environment. The document also states that the department has tried to resolve the problems with Hatcher, his command staff and human resources, but that their “concerns have fallen on deaf ears.”
Morgan State officials acknowledged receipt of the letter from the department’s union over the weekend as completely “unexpected and surprising.” Prior to receipt of the letter, a meeting had been scheduled between university leaders and the new leadership of the campus’s Fraternal Order of Police chapter, university officials said.
“The university is committed to conducting a full investigation of all allegations pertaining to the MSUPD and its operations. In the interim, the University remains confident in the abilities of Morgan’s police department under the steady leadership of Chief Lance Hatcher,” Larry Jones, assistant vice president for public relations and strategic communications, said in a written statement. “We thank the members of the MSUPD for their untiring efforts to keep the Morgan community and our campus safe.”
The letter was drafted by Morgan State University FOP Lodge #142. Morgan’s police department has 43 employees, including civilian staff, of whom 29 are active members of the union. All but one of those members participated in drafting the letter to university leadership.
Clyde Boatwright, president of the Maryland State FOP, who spoke on behalf of the union, told The Baltimore Banner that Morgan’s police department operates on a cumbersome hierarchical structure. “It’s not 21st century policing. It’s bullying and intimidation and that’s not necessarily effective in this day of policing,” he said.
In their letter, union members said Hatcher has led the university to believe the department has at least 60 officers. However, the number he references includes unarmed security used to handle emergent and non-emergent issues around campus.
And after the most recent mass shooting, Boatwright said, officers were unprepared to respond and were strained to man the campus immediately following the incident.
“Sadly, the fact that the officers were not necessarily prepared speaks to the leadership of the chief, at this point. There have been enough mass casualty incidents across the country to foresee that if it happens at our doorstep, we should be prepared,” Boatwright said.
Last week, Morgan also decided to further extend its pre-existing fence around its campus and increase checkpoints where students, faculty, visitors and the public will have to pass through gates to get onto campus after showing identification.
Despite the Baltimore Police department’s Northeast District being on Morgan’s campus, there was delayed communication between the two police departments on Oct. 3 because of interoperability access put in place by Hatcher and Morgan State’s leadership, Boatwright said.
According to the letter, Morgan’s police department has not provided officers with enough equipment — including tourniquets, bicycles, Segways and vehicles — to ensure proper mobility in the field.
“The lack of available vehicles for officers to respond to the scene in a timely manner created a challenging situation during the October 3rd incident. Some officers were compelled to cram into another responding officer’s patrol vehicle, as there were insufficient vehicles to accommodate,” the letter said, adding that makeshift tourniquets were put in place when rendering aid to the shooting victims.
Union officers also asked for all officers to have unrestricted access to all areas of the campus to eliminate delays in saving victims and preventing further harm to others. In the document, members said patrol officers could not respond to the shooting emergency because they were limited to exterior entrances and exits at Thurgood Marshall Hall, the dormitory near where the shooting took place.
“We would like to be given an opportunity to have our concerns addressed. We’ve attempted to work within the confines of what’s been given, but we absolutely need comprehensive changes to do the job properly,” Boatwright said.