Police officers at the University of Illinois at Chicago complain they were left outmanned and underequipped at last Friday’s chaotic rally where protesters and supporters of Donald Trump faced off in noisy and often violent confrontations.
And NBC5 Investigates has learned it is not the first time the union has raised issues about safety, and manpower.
“What we, your officers needed to perform our job safely, and to the best of our abilities, was disregarded and ignored,” union president Anthony Robinson wrote to Police Chief Kevin Booker. “It also placed each and every attendee, student, and VIP in unnecessary danger.”
Members of the police department declined NBC5’s request for an interview, saying they lacked authorization to comment on the record. But a copy of the letter, obtained by NBC5 Investigates, shows a litany of complaints.
In that letter, which was sent Monday, Robinson complains that officers were told to leave pepper spray behind, not to wear protective gloves, and not to place their hands on anyone.
“We were given specific instructions on how to arrest someone,” he said. “We were told to have the hired security company ask troublemakers to leave first.”
After that, he said, officers were told to have Trump staffers ask the individuals to leave, then they were to ask twice more, and inform protesters that refusal would constitute criminal trespass and expose them to arrest.
“This was the only plan given to us, and we followed these instructions given,” he said. “As a result, we arrested three individuals. Unfortunately, you later decided that you wanted no arrests and ordered that we release any and all arrestees.”
As a result, the Robinson said, his officers were now exposed to possible legal action by the arrestees, “for doing exactly what they were told to do.”
The officers also complained that Booker, the chief, “stayed far away from the actual event.”
The University refused a request for an interview. But in a written statement, they disputed the officers’ claims.
“Our officers had all appropriate training, authorized use of force, and protective equipment available to them at all times,” they wrote. “The UIC Police were fully prepared to handle security during the Trump event and coordinated extensive meetings in advance with appropriate law enforcement agencies including the Chicago Police, the Illinois State Police and Secret Service as well as campaign and protest organizers.”
UIC insisted in that statement, that officers could not have used their pepper spray in the confined area, that they were only told not to wear dark gloves, which look aggressive, and that chief Booker was on site and in charge throughout the evening.
“The posture and tactics employed by UIC Police resulted in no injuries and few arrests inside the Pavilion and an orderly exit of large crowds following the abrupt cancellation of the event,” the statement said. “The UIC Police Department was not consulted before the cancellation and UICPD did not recommend that the campaign cancel the event.”
The University insists officers were never told not to place their hands on anyone, that those instructions were only given to private security officers and the Trump campaign’s own security.
Student trustee Jauwan Hall, said he was not concerned about the officers' charges.
"I'm pretty sure the UIC police department has a pretty big budget," he said. "I think it's a little bit overblown."
Hall said he had personally seen chief Booker in front of the Pavilion the night of the demonstration. "I talked to him," he said.
"These officers don't seem to have low morale when I see them on campus," he said. "They look fine to me."
Still, NBC5 Investigates has learned that last August, the union raised other safety concerns, about cutbacks in manpower imposed by Booker shortly after his arrival as the new chief.
In a letter to UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis August 16, the union complained that staff cuts would mean only two officers, instead of four, would be available to respond to any police calls, which they called a “dangerously low number.”
“Each group deserves to be as safe and secure as possible,” they said. “We are surrendering our campus to the criminal element who will benefit from a significant increase in the amount of time it takes before the first police officer will arrive on scene.”