Katherine Merisotis/The Bates Student
In a video posted to Instagram on Saturday, a Campus Security officer is heard describing differential treatment of white students versus students of color.
According to the Instagram caption, Lead Campus Safety Officer Dennis Skinner visited the students’ room on Feb. 14 due to a noise complaint. It is unclear how the topic of enforcement came up, or how long the conversation lasted before a student began recording.
In the video posted by @BatesStudentRights, a new student-run Instagram account which aims to inform students of their rights, Officer Skinner claims that he — and other officers — are scared of writing up students of color. He said that he avoids documenting these encounters.
“And like I said to him before, anytime that I usually deal with a person of color, I don’t document nothing, OK? I really don’t. I mean, because I’ll tell you, most officers, we are afraid,” the recording begins.
He then expresses concern about what would happen if a student of color were to “lie” about an incident.
“Not saying that you would do it or somebody else, but if a person of color lies, guess what? They’re gonna believe that student over us,” he said. “I’ve got a family, I’ve got grandkids. You know, I’ve been here for 25 years. So, we’re more apt not to document a person of color.
“And I’m being honest with you, I think most of the department is like that,” he continued.
While it may seem that officers let white students “get away with more,” Officer Skinner claimed it is because there are more white students at Bates.
“We may let five go, and write up 15 that you don’t know about,” he said.
Most of the time, safety officers tend to let students off with a warning or encourage them to quiet down, rather than write them up, Officer Skinner said.
“You probably don’t believe us. I mean, like you said, you got some officers that have bad reputations. You know, and we know that. But I, like every police officer, as we were talking about, you got the good, and you got the bad,” he said.
The video screen remains dark for almost the entirety of the two-and-a-half minute recording. It is likely the students were recording the conversation without the officer’s knowledge.
Along with the majority of U.S. states, Maine only requires one party to consent to a recording. This means that it is legal in Maine to record another person without their consent.
The video was posted on Saturday, a day after an incident where Officer Skinner and a second, publicly unnamed safety officer used physical force to restrain and handcuff a student. The altercation is currently under investigation.
Due to the ongoing investigation, Officer Skinner was not authorized to respond to The Student’s request for comment, according to a member of Bates Human Resources who replied to the email in his stead.
Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students Joshua McIntosh emailed students Sunday afternoon to address the video and the incident in Rand. He wrote that Officer Skinner has been placed on leave while an independent investigation occurs.
“To be clear, differential enforcement of student conduct policies based on race or ethnicity is wholly unacceptable and contrary to college policy and Campus Safety training and procedures,” he wrote.
This investigation will seek not only to scrutinize the use of force Friday night, but also evaluate claims Officer Skinner made during the recording. According to Senior Associate Dean of Students Carl Steidel, the results of the investigation will be announced in the coming weeks.
While many students are disturbed by these comments alone, for some, these comments go beyond a single incident. They view Officer Skinner’s remarks as an admission of what they have personally experienced and long believed to be true: unequal race-based treatment by Campus Safety.
For years, relations between students and Campus Safety have been tense — this is particularly true for students of color.
In 2017, a Black student was restrained, forced to the ground, and handcuffed by a safety officer for “disorderly conduct.” A month later, after an external investigation, the college determined the officers did not violate Bates policy.
This incident sparked major backlash by students. Bates+Who?, a student organization unaffiliated with the college, formed following the event and wrote to the community demanding a series of changes be made to Bates College and Campus Safety, then Campus Security.
Campus Safety met at least one of the organization’s demands by hiring Douglass Morency, a Black man, as the new director of security in October of 2017. However, by February of 2020, the college announced Morency would be leaving Bates.
Newly-promoted Director of Safety Paul Menice, who has worked at Bates for more than 30 years, said that Campus Safety worked to improve the department following this incident.
This semester, four students were hired as program coordinators to help bridge the gap between Campus Safety and students.
“This incident, or these two incidents, it may be a setback, but I think it gives us [an]opportunity to…open up the flow of communications even more,” Director Menice said. He spoke with one of the Bates College Student Government co-presidents, Lebanos Mengistu ‘21, last weekend about the video and altercation in Rand.
Both Dean Steidel and Director Menice emphasized they are open to talking with students. Dean Steidel said the students who run @BatesStudentRights reached out to him, and he will be speaking with them this week.
Director Menice said there is an open position in Campus Safety, and he would like to prioritize hiring a staff member who is a person of color. However, he said their pool of applicants is local and small. Since posting the job vacancy three weeks ago, he has received just half a dozen applications as of Monday.
Beyond a background in law enforcement, Director Menice said customer service is an essential skill for the job. Their last hire was a chef who previously worked in Commons.
Director Menice said working with students to foster a mutually respectful relationship continues to be a priority for the department.