Community conflicted over police conduct

Compiled by the Retriever Weekly Senior Staff

On the evening of Feb. 15, Patapsco Hall residents were forced to evacuate due to a tripped fire alarm. Rather than merely waiting outside until they were allowed to reenter, however, students were treated to an unexpected spectacle: the public humiliation of one of their own.

UMBC Police Officer Jamie Cheatem responded to the alarm, and in front of a large crowd of evacuated residents, instructed a student who had been cooking in one of the community kitchens to step forward and tell everyone his name, that he couldn’t cook and that he had “fucked up.”

While some students shrugged off this display as a light-hearted lesson for an irresponsible student and cited their positive experiences with Cheatem, others called for action to be taken against the officer.

Following an article about the incident, reactions from members of the UMBC community on myUMBC have ranged from advocating for Cheatem’s dismissal to requesting that the student apologize to Cheatem. In short, reactions are all over the place.

Cheatem may be a valuable asset to UMBC’s police force and a beloved member of the community, but that doesn’t change the fact that he handled the situation wrongly, mistreating a student in the process. Publicly shaming a student — especially when there is some doubt as to whether or not the student in question actually caused the alarm to go off — was not the right course of action.

Some have argued that Cheatem was just trying to lighten up a gloomy situation. However, this was done at the expense of a student, and Cheatem’s profanity was unprofessional.

Cheatem’s entire career of service should not be ignored in the face of one mistake. He shouldn’t lose his job over this one incident, but the current investigation into his conduct is certainly justified. The relationship between the UMBC community and UMBC’s police force should be built on a foundation of mutual respect, and this recent event does not set a good precedent.

The UMBC Police Department is doing its due diligence by conducting an internal investigation, which is ongoing. UMBC’s Deputy Police Chief Paul Dillon said in an interview on Monday, Feb. 23 that “We have done several interviews of several students, and we have a couple more to go.”

“We’re trying to get as many different perspectives as we can,” Dillon said. The investigation is expected to take a few more days.

Regardless of the outcome of the personnel investigation, the fact that the police department is staging an inquiry is reassuring. By investigating the complaints, the UMBC Police Department has shown that they take their officers’ conduct seriously. Hopefully this incident and the subsequent investigation will lead to better, more respectful interactions between UMBC students and police officers.