Rowan University is looking into why students and staff were not immediately notified Monday that police were investigating a report of a man with a gun on campus, even after law enforcement surrounded a car there with guns drawn. A video taken by one of the students who watched the dramatic car stop unfold has gone viral, with more than 254,000 views on Facebook.
In the nearly four-minute video, Glassboro police ordered two students out of their car, and instructed them to walk backward with their hands up and to kneel before handcuffing them and searching the vehicle. No gun was found. Scores of students appear on the sidelines in the video, and some walk by nonchalantly, with book bags on their backs, as one Glassboro officer aims a patrol rifle at the students in the car.
"What if that person [in the car] really did have a gun and they started shooting back and forth?" said Loretta Winters, president of the Gloucester County NAACP. "If there was a possibility there was a gun, how come the safety of all the other students wasn't taken into consideration? I have talked to some students and they are very upset."
Winters has called for an investigation, saying the two African American students who were stopped and had weapons pointed at them believe they were racially targeted. Altaif Hassan, a senior pre-med student from Trenton, said Tuesday that he has been stopped more than 20 times by Glassboro police and that his car has been searched each time but nothing was found. He also said that he was detained for more than an hour as police searched his vehicle Monday for a gun.
Winters said she wants to find out whether Glassboro police are profiling minority students and why Altaif has been stopped so often. The college has 19,500 students, of whom 30 percent are minorities.
Gianna Roberson, a freshman from Cherry Hill who is majoring in nursing, was a passenger in Hassan's car and said that she feared they might die, after reports of young black men nationwide being shot during police encounters where no gun is found.
Police Chief Franklin Brown Jr. has not responded to requests for comment. On Wednesday he released a statement on the Glassboro police Facebook page that described how someone had reported seeing a man with a gun in a black Dodge Charger parked at the Collegetown Shopping Center. The witness, according to Glassboro police, pointed to a car in the shopping center parking lot as it was taking off. Police quickly followed that vehicle and stopped it one mile away, in front of Mimosa Hall.
Joe Cardona, Rowan's spokesman, said he sent an alert to the student body after the police stop was over. On Thursday, he said that in retrospect, the university wants to examine the way communications were handled and how to make improvements.
"Typically a Rowan alert goes out right away," he said. "We have to unravel how did this go through. We found out the news not through dispatch, but through the campus police listening to the Glassboro police radio."
Cardona said the university is holding a town hall meeting at 11 a.m. Friday at the Student Center ballroom to hear concerns from students and the community. University president Ali A. Houshmand will make opening remarks. Cardona said the police chief was also invited to attend but that he has informed the university that he plans to meet privately Friday with student leaders and the two students who were stopped.
"There's a lot of questions about the handling … and the whole race issue. It's really split. People say the police were doing their job. Others say this is a black guy pulled over for nothing and he could have died. So as a university community, we recognize both of those arguments and embrace those arguments," Cardona said.
Jon Shane, an associate professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that based on the available facts, the police acted appropriately in drawing their weapons if they had reasonable suspicion to believe there was a man with gun in the car. "That's a high-risk stop," he said.
He also said that police must also consider "the credibility of the source of information, how detailed the information was, and what they can corroborate. … In this case they found a car that matched the description and it was in reasonable proximity from where" it was seen by the person who contacted police.
Shane said that the use of a patrol rifle is also proper when "you don't know what, if anything, you are about to encounter. … If you come out with your patrol rifle and intimidate someone into surrendering without firing a shot, that is a good thing," he said.
Winters said she too was glad no one was hurt but said the incident should be thoroughly examined. "We need to stop and to pause and see how we can serve our community better. Just because nothing happened this time, there will be another incident and how will we handle it this time?" she said.