- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

Administration officials at the University of the District of Columbia are asking campus police officers to sign a confidentiality agreement to bar them from divulging “sensitive information” about the city’s land-grant university.

Campus officers will face no penalties for refusing to sign the confidentiality agreement, said UDC communications director Michael Andrews.

“It’s an accountability measure,” Mr. Andrews said. “It is one of those things where you don’t want everything that goes on in a security environment to be open for public discussion. … It’s a common-sense thing.”

Mr. Andrews said the agreement should not prevent campus police officers from cooperating with other police agencies.

Officials in local police agencies said a confidentiality agreement for officers in public police forces is an unusual measure.

“I’ve been on three forces during my 30-year career, and I’ve never been asked to sign something like that,” said Lou Cannon, president of the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). “I certainly hope they are not trying to impede the public’s right to know.”

Thirteen of UDC’s 25 sworn police officers have not signed the confidentiality agreement since it was first presented to them Jan. 12, according to the university’s administration. The Washington Times has obtained a copy of the agreement, which was crafted by Robert T. Robinson, vice president of public safety.

“In general, all records related to University business or University personnel, whether received, disseminated, generated, or maintained by the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Management will be considered confidential by nature,” the agreement document states.

“Records are inclusive of (but not limited to) the following: incident reports, inter-departmental memorandums, personnel rosters (of any nature), and the like,” the agreement states. “Department members are expected to safeguard confidential or sensitive information and refrain from unnecessary or illegal dissemination of same.”

One campus officer who signed the agreement and one who did not both told The Times they believe the agreement is a response to a July article in The Times that cited a campus police theft report about files taken from a UDC finance department office.

The Times reported that the records related to the $263,000 renovation of UDC President William L. Pollard’s university residence, which had fallen into disrepair. The records, which were later found to be backed up on computer, had been taken amid media inquiries about the expense of the home-improvement project.

The D.C. inspector general is expected next month to release a report on an investigation into a link between the theft of the records and the home renovation.

Mr. Andrews said the confidentiality agreement was not prepared in response to any specific situation or incident, adding that the two officers are “entitled to their opinions.”

“It made me a little angry,” said the officer who refused to sign the agreement. “They are trying to shut somebody up, stop someone from exercising their First Amendment rights.”

The officer who signed the document said he didn’t understand the reason for it. “I don’t know anything too much about what is going on around here anyway,” he said.

Some security departments at private universities, such as Georgetown University, require campus officers to sign confidentiality agreements. But those at public universities, such as the University of Maryland, do not. UDC is the District’s only public institution of higher learning.

Maj. Cathy Atwell, spokeswoman for University of Maryland police force at College Park, said confidentiality agreements are not the norm for any type of public police agency.

The Metropolitan Police Department does not ask its officers to sign confidentiality agreements. “Most major departments have sets of general orders that cover what we can say and can’t say,” said police spokesman Officer Kenneth Bryson.

Several UDC officers and Mr. Cannon, whose union represents some campus officers, said many on the force are disgruntled and the confidentiality agreement has likely fueled dissatisfaction with Mr. Robinson.

“A lot of people don’t like his heavy management style,” said one UDC officer.

Since taking charge of UDC in July 2002, Mr. Pollard and his executive team, including Mr. Robinson, have weathered criticism from students, faculty and the D.C. Council over the proliferation of high-paying jobs.

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