LEWISTON — A group of Bates College students are planning a protest Friday calling for administrators “to defund and disarm campus safety” officers.

An Instagram post by the Bates Leftist Coalition on Thursday.

The Bates Leftist Coalition said the 1 p.m. walk-out and rally is meant to “reemphasize our ongoing commitment and persistence to the work of disarming, defunding and reimaging” the Campus Safety Department.

The move follows a decision by the college this week to take away the batons carried by its security officers, who are not otherwise armed.

That decision followed a petition by the leftist coalition and the Bates Restorative and Transformative Justice Coalition, signed by 18 groups and 546 people, that called for the removal of both batons and handcuffs from officers and to oppose equipping them with body cameras.

The issue of campus security officers has become a flash point in the wake of a March 5 incident at Rand Hall where a veteran officer, Dennis Skinner, tackled and handcuffed a student in March who refused to identify himself. After an outside investigation, Skinner was fired last week.

The petition signers said they were “deeply concerned with the Bates College administration’s response to violent acts by its office of Campus ‘Safety,’” including “the violent assault on a first-year student” that led to Skinner’s dismissal after a quarter-century working for the college.

In response to the petition, Josh McIntosh, vice president for campus life, told students in an email that it “is fair to say that our current model is not working well” for either students or Campus Safety staff.

“We need to address fundamental issues in order to make the structural and cultural changes that will allow us to make progress and improve the functioning of Campus Safety,” McIntosh said.

In that email, he said that batons “are not necessary or appropriate for use by Campus Safety in carrying out their duties” so they won’t be used any longer.

Batons, which are basically rounded sticks, are “a very formidable weapon for defense and counterattack,” according to a 1967 FBI handbook on their use.

An officer “who is skilled and practiced in using the baton can adequately cope with most situations where physical force is necessary,” the handbook said.

While Bates’ officers won’t have batons any longer, the college isn’t ready to take away their handcuffs.

McIntosh said handcuffs are meant to restrain people “in a genuinely threatening or violent situation” so officers will continue to carry them.

Joshua McIntosh, vice president for campus life at Bates College.  Submitted photo

Campus safety officers typically deal with complaints about liquor law violations, loud music, damage to dormitories and disturbances in general. Only rarely does something more serious warrant mention in the department’s monthly crime reports.

But the college does see some serious cases.

The department’s most recent annual report cited statistics from 2017 through 2019 that include 20 rape accusations, 17 burglaries, one aggravated assault, 11 “forcible fondlings,” four arson cases, three motor vehicle thefts and a host of liquor and drug law violations. There were no hate crimes reported.

Students who have taken up the cause say they don’t want a “quick fix” for Campus Safety that doesn’t address deeper concerns.

In the petition sent to President Clayton Spencer last month, they said the department “has displayed a combative and invasive pattern of behavior. Violence enacted toward the student body, especially students of color, is endemic to the structure and position of the office.”

Friday’s protest, slated for 1 p.m. outside Lane Hall, specifically demands greater transparency about campus safety decision-making, taking away officers’ handcuffs “before this summer” and freezing funding for campus safety.

In addition, protesters are calling on Bates “to acknowledge that students SPECIFICALLY Black and Brown students, have been harmed.”

The investigator who looked in the March 5 incident, termed a liquor law violation in the crime log kept by Campus Safety, is still examining Bates’ security operations and policies.

Sarah Worley, the investigator, “will consider a wide range of tools and approaches, but all decisions about how we move forward with Campus Safety will be made after the comprehensive assessment has been completed,” McIntosh said.

The Campus Safety Department, which operates day and night, has a director, nine officers, one transportation coordinator, four dispatchers, an access control position and a part-timer on its staff. Its duties include investigating complaints, operating a student safety shuttle program, offering and overseeing parking on campus.

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