New DPS head has checkered past

August 22, 2008

Controversy hounded Jeffrey Van Slyke, Georgetown’s new Director of Public Safety, while he was the head of the University of Texas’s police department. He reacted flippantly to a racial profiling accusation, was named in a sexual assault suit involving one of his department’s officers, presided over the infiltration of a campus group, and armed his police with shotguns and semi-automatic rifles. Van Slyke’s past was first covered by the Voice’s blog, Vox Populi.

In 2003, a UT police officer asked an African-American UT student for two forms of identification in the Student Union. According to UT’s Daily Texan, the officer claimed the student acted suspiciously, but the student insisted he was only playing a piano.

Van Slyke denied the profiling allegations, telling the Texan, “I cannot change how somebody feels. We are not here to be a feel-good people. People want to vent, and they feel like they have been mistreated. Truth and reality are different than how people feel.” An internal investigation exonerated the officer of wrongdoing, but a committee appointed by UT’s president called for officer diversity training and a further review of racial profiling.

In 2001, a female student charged an officer in the University of Texas police department with sexual assault. Van Slyke and the university’s president were named in a related civil suit and accused of ignoring the officer’s past improprieties. The officer was acquitted in a separate criminal trial, and the civil suit was settled out of court.

Later in Van Slyke’s tenure at Texas, Officer Julie Gillespie infiltrated a campus pro-choice group. Her report read: “I went undercover to this organization meeting, here’s what they’re doing, here’s what they’re planning.” The police report was obtained by UT’s student association under the Freedom of Information Act, as was correspondence between the university and state attorney general about protecting student informants.

Van Slyke also armed his department with shotguns and semi-automatic rifles. A public records request filed by uncovered the purchases of ten shotguns and ten AR-15 rifles, which calls “the rifle you carried in the service.”

When asked about these incidents, Georgetown spokesperson Julie Green Batatille continued to express support for Van Slyke.

“Jeff has handled a range of complex and challenging issues throughout his career,” she wrote in a e-mail message. “Allegations about incidents that may or may not have occurred at other institutions are best be addressed by those entities directly.”

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