Section: News

College takes steps toward better relationship with KCSO

Three months after a group of black students and alumni on a golf cart were stopped by Deputy Kevin Williams, the College is putting forth efforts to strengthen relations with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO).                 

On Wednesday, President Sean Decatur sent out a news bulletin to students and employees, with a link to a series of FAQs about the College’s relationship with the KCSO. Decatur and his team put together the FAQ in response to requests from several community members about the overlapping statutes relating the College, KCSO and the Village of Gambier. According to Decatur’s email, the FAQ is aimed at addressing “some common questions and misperceptions” about how these governing bodies function in tandem. 

“Most of us are aware that, as members of the Kenyon community, we are governed by college policies as well as village ordinances, county regulations, and state and federal law,” Decatur wrote. “But how these work together to ensure public safety is not always self-evident.”

This is the first public announcement from the Office of the President since the incident occurred on Sept. 28, 2019. According to an Oct. 24 Collegian article, Mo Kamara ’22 was driving several alumni—including some of the founders of the Black Student Union (BSU)—on a golf cart after the evening’s celebrations for the BSU’s 50th anniversary weekend. While Kamara had registered the vehicle with Campus Safety and was on Middle Path when Williams flagged her down, the deputy claimed that the vehicle was unlicensed and that she couldn’t drive it on campus.

“I don’t know where you got it, but I would take it back and park it,” he told her.

A few weeks after the incident, Decatur organized a meeting with Sheriff David Shaffer, then-Mayor Kachen Kimmell and Board of Trustees member Larry James, intended to “make sure that these reports were on his [Shaffer’s] radar screen and to start a dialogue of how we move forward.” While Decatur has yet to report on subsequent meetings on the topic, he asked Civil Rights/Title IX Deputy Coordinator Kevin Peterson to document accounts of the golf cart incident in order to gather more information on how to move forward.

“In reviewing the documentation, I am persuaded that we also need to clarify traffic ordinances pertaining to golf carts and other vehicles used to shuttle people and equipment across campus,” Decatur wrote. “Most of these vehicles are not approved for public roads and village sidewalks, and yet certain destinations are not reachable via college paths alone. Further study will help us provide drivers and safety officers with clearer guidance.”

Those looking to know more about the College’s relationship with the KCSO can find the FAQ on the Kenyon website. The FAQ answers questions about where KCSO has jurisdiction on campus, when Campus Safety calls on KCSO for assistance, under what circumstances KCSO notifies Campus Safety of an incident and more. The resource also explains what would happen if the Village decided to give up its contract with KCSO: “The Knox County Sheriff’s Office would still have jurisdiction over Kenyon’s campus, but would likely conduct fewer regular patrols.”

While Decatur recognizes the utility of clarifying traffic regulations and enforcement policies, he notes that protecting and supporting the rights of all community members is of supreme importance.

“[W]e must acknowledge the difficult and complex history between law enforcement and African-Americans in the U.S., and the ways this informs the daily lived experiences of some members of our community,” Decatur wrote. “No tweaks to policy, no clarification of regulations, will be sufficient to truly address these deeply ingrained issues, nor will they be adequate salve for the chronic pain of past experiences. The only option we have is to work towards a relationship rooted in trust and mutual respect.”

Anyone with additional questions about the College’s relationship with the KCSO can reach out to Director of Campus Safety Michael Sweazey at sweazey1@kenyon.edu, Gambier Mayor Leeman Kessler at mayor@villageofgambier.org or Knox County Sheriff David Shaffer at dshaffer@knoxcountysheriff.com.

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