Friday, August 29, 2008

Chief who approved undercover surveillance of UT-Austin political groups called to account by Georgetown student paper

Jeffrey Van Slyke, the former University of Texas Police Department chief who authorized undercover snooping on UT-Austin student groups, finds himself facing hard questions from a student newspaper in Washington D.C. about his policing record at UT in this high-impact piece from the Georgetown Voice.

Of the many regrettable UTPD episodes recounted in the story, perhaps the most controversial in an academic setting was Van Slyke's admitted, repeated use of undercover officers and informants at UT-Austin to infiltrate anti-war and pro-choice student groups:
On Monday, Van Slyke would not rule out using student informants at Georgetown.

“What I’ve done on other campuses doesn’t necessarily mean that’s going to happen here, and my focus is on what’s best for Georgetown University,” he said.

Professor Tina Fryling, the chair of Mercyhurst College’s Criminal Justice Department and a specialist in criminal justice ethics, said she did not know how often informants and officers are used to report on campus groups.

“I would say it shouldn’t be common, because the whole point of having a college atmosphere is for people to explore their beliefs, their ideas, do whatever they need to do within a group,” she said.

Georgetown President John DeGioia said yesterday that he only approved of the use of student informants and infiltration in rare circumstances.

“I could probably count on one finger in 20 years of knowledge when we’ve been comfortable with having somebody engage in a way that would not be rather transparent,” he said. He added that he was not familiar with Van Slyke’s use of informants.
If nobody in the Georgetown University administration knew about UTPD's political use of undercover snooping under Van Slyke's watch, that means nobody bothered to perform any due diligence background check on the new chief. The incidents were nationally publicized; the first time happened within the month after 9/11, although the practice continued for years afterward. The Voice story shows a simple check of The Daily Texan archives would have revealed virtually all the controversies mentioned.

The student paper also contains an especially interesting passage based on Van Slyke's recently completed Ph.D. dissertation, adding a coda to the incident that's arguably the biggest public black mark on his stint at UTPD:

Van Slyke received his PhD in Education from UT last fall after successfully defending his dissertation about law enforcement ethics. In the dissertation, he describes unethical behavior he witnessed in university security forces: a cop plays Russian roulette with his revolver in front of colleagues, an officer and her boyfriend sneak into her boss’s office to “be tutored in biology,” and a policeman solicits prostitutes from his cruiser.

The dissertation also describes an incident of oral sex between a student and a campus police officer. In Van Slyke’s dissertation, an officer discovered a woman after her car hit a stop sign.

“As the officer assists the female student in removing her vehicle from the curb, he detects an odor of alcohol and determines that she is intoxicated. The officer also observes that the female student is scantly dressed and not wearing under garments,” the dissertation reads.

According to the dissertation, the woman then “engage[d] in oral sex with the officer” in a nearby parking garage. The officer eventually resigned after an internal investigation and was arrested for sexual assault, according to the dissertation.

The situation described in the dissertation bears similarities to an incident that occurred at UT in 2001, in which a UT student claimed that she was forced to perform oral sex on UTPD officer Sellers Bailey. In court, it was revealed that her blood-alcohol content at the time was 0.17. The officer was fired from UTPD (Daily Texan, May 2, 2003) and was eventually charged with sexual assault. He was later acquitted, in part because of his victim’s high BAC.

The victim also filed a lawsuit against Van Slyke and UT President Larry Faulkner, saying they had ignored warning signs about the officer, including a sexual harassment claim filed against Bailey by a female guard. The lawsuit against Van Slyke and Faulkner was settled out of court in 2004 (Daily Texan, June 18, 2004).

The story was accompanied with an editorial criticizing Van Slyke (who began his new job as Georgetown's public safety chief on June 1 after most students were gone for the summer) for refusing to discuss his UT-Austin record or rule out using informants to infiltrate student groups at Georgetown.

Seeing these incidents compiled all together reminds this alum that, at the time these scandals occurred, the UT-Austin administration circled the wagons around Chief Van Slyke instead of reining him in, tacitly allowing tactics like undercover surveillance of political groups. Perhaps with the help of the student press, Georgetown administrators will be more aggressive holding Van Slyke's feet to the fire.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

The UTPD entire for is feather-bedded, ineffective and overpaid. You should observe their patrolling around the Texas Medical Center in Houston. Every routine traffic stop requires at least three crusiers to coverge on the scene and almost treat a improper lane change as a felony stop.

Anonymous said...

Let's hope this joker doesn't have a swat team at his disposal, he'd likely be selling those cool sub-machine guns out the back door.

Now he's a Dr of Education, good grief charlie brown, send this bozo packing, er, just get rid of him and make sure he never wears a badge again.

TxBluesMan said...

Van Slyke was an idiot. He is the reason Keel filed HB 479 in the 2005 session.

d said...

Remember the UTPD moron who pulled the guy over who had the fake arm sticking out of his truck, and who upon learning it was a fake arm/practical joke, kept the guy handcuffed on the side of the road for a half hour or so? It preceded the rape and was a serious warning sign of deep trouble at UTPD and there too they just circled the wagons.

Anonymous said...

UT Southwestern Police in Dallas,are on a very short leash.They have to get permission from admistration to arrest employees or students with outstanding warrants.The chief authorized the purchase of handguns that ,until now,only the Texas Rangers were using,at a cost of $1000 or more while the glocks they had were only a few years old. This department has never fired at a shot on duty in more than 30 years. The new chief took a Ford Expedition out of service for his take home vehicle rather than a traditional crusier.So he uses more than twice the gas to drive back and forth to work at state expense.This department is now referred to as the Palace Guard ,as they are deployed to keep the press away from the president,who has been under fire from the media for misuse of donor funds.

Anonymous said...

Impressive article for a student paper. I spoke to the reporter for a good 15 minutes answering lots of great questions.

Van Syke's departure from UT should not mean we relax in watchdogging UTPD. Former APD brass Dahlstrom is in charge now--and I've my share of complaints on his behavior while there. Actually I don't know why he left (resigned over something he may have been disciplined for?)...but it's one of the things on my list.

There has been infiltration since Van Syke too--revealed in a law classroom where a US Atty spoke and named the current groups on their watchlist.
Debbie Russell, ACLU-TX CenTex

Paul B. Kennedy said...

I remember when I was a student at the 40 Acres during the 80's. We'd hold a rally and there would be UTPD's with video cameras on the mall. There were some "activists" we suspected of being informants, as well.

Will Sommer said...

Whoa! I'm the author of that piece, and this post was just brought to my attention. As a transplanted Houstonian, it's an honor to be in Grits for Breakfast!

On the Van Slyke front, we're continuing to watch him. So far things have been more weird than sinister (deputizing Georgetown's bulldog mascot). I'm keeping an eye out, though, and have filed some FOIAs to look further into his past.

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Anonymous said...

UT Austin has a lot of problems. The major problem is that Dr. Powers is an ex-ENRON director. Why is that something to boast about?

When I was at UT Austin I was snitched on and spied on. I also experienced discrimination and harassment from faculty and some of the students that acted as snitches. It's my guess that the university uses money or teacher assistant positions as rewards for snitching.

The Dean Dr. Lilly and Dr. LaToya Hill have the snitching and community watch dog group set up with BCAL. Behavior concerns advice line. Anybody can leak gossip to them. They keep track of their perceived enemies on a database and they probably use some students as informants and snitches. A complete violation of the fourth amendment rights and due process.

UT Austin is not worth going to. It is a college that utilizes Stalinism, statism, and collectivism tactics to control their students.

"Collectivism holds that the individual has no rights, that his life and work belong to the group . . . and that the group may sacrifice him at its own whim to its own interests. The only way to implement a doctrine of that kind is by means of brute force—and statism has always been the political corollary of collectivism."

The Virtue of Selfishness “Racism,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 128

"Collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group—whether to a race, class or state does not matter. Collectivism holds that man must be chained to collective action and collective thought for the sake of what is called “the common good.”

“The Only Path to Tomorrow,” Reader’s Digest, Jan. 1944, 8.