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UNLV hires CUNY Security Director Jose Elique
Will he bring spies, enemies lists, hollow-tip bullets with him?
By Rob Wallace
Jose Elique, security director for all of CUNY, has left CUNY for a security job at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Elique was hired at $95,000 a year to quiet an explosive situation at the UNLV campus. But given his CUNY record his hiring may instead add fuel to the fire.
According to the May 3 edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the security department at UNLV campus had been roiled by controversy. On June 1, Elique became the campus’s fourth security director since last November. In October 1999, UNLV students held a protest against campus police after two high-profile incidents of security abuse.
As more complaints mounted after the protest, the incumbent UNLV director of security was relieved of his job. The director’s successor was himself placed on paid leave after a state Peace Officers Council issued an unfavorable review of a March security drug raid on a dormitory. During the military-style raid, a campus housing coordinator was handcuffed and, with students, frisked. Four Ecstasy pills and 18 dangerous packets of perfumed talcum powder were seized in the raid. Another director served in the interim until Elique’s hire.
According to the Review-Journal, a March report prepared by security administrators from outside Nevada blasted UNLV officers as “arrogant,” as displaying animosity toward the university and dormitory staff, and “not above using intimidation to keep other members of the department in line with their thinking.”
After filtering a pool of 50 applicants from around the country, UNLV hired Elique. About Elique, Bob Ackerman, UNLV vice president for student services who has since resigned, said, “He understands our situation very well. He wants to involve police much more in the community and do more outreach to students.”
Upon his arrival at UNLV, Elique said he left 700 “clones” at CUNY. These “clones” are the officers of CUNY Security who, Elique told the Review-Journal on June 3, “perfectly espouse his philosophy of friendly university community policing.”
“I established my legacy [at CUNY],” Elique told the Review-Journal.
Many familiar with Elique’s CUNY record would agree he did indeed establish his legacy here, but in ways completely contrary to the image he has used to seduce UNLV. If UNLV students thought their previous security directors were brutal, they haven’t seen anything yet.
Who is Jose Elique?
In 1992 Jose Elique was hired by CUNY as Director of Public Safety. Elique served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. From 1970 to 1991 he had held various positions with the Port Authority Police of New York and New Jersey. Some of that time at the Port Authority was spent as a counter-terrorism expert. And it is likely that such experience is what attracted then-CUNY Chancellor Ann Reynolds to Elique.
Upon assuming the chancellorship in 1991, Reynolds was greeted by student takeovers. In protest against yet another $90 million cut in higher education proposed by then-Governor Mario Cuomo, students at City College and other CUNY campuses occupied campus buildings for over two weeks.
Reynolds called on the campus presidents to discipline students. According to Ron McGuire, a student-rights attorney who defended many of the students at the disciplinary hearings that followed, not one student suffered expulsion and only one was suspended. Humiliated, Reynolds proposed to the state legislature that it fund a new security squad to operate directly under the Chancellor’s control. The legislature rejected the proposal.
Despite massive cuts in CUNY’s budget during Reynolds’s first years, CUNY increased its annual funding for security from $21.8 million to over $40 million on salary and benefits alone. According to CUNY’s own 1995–6 adopted budget, 160 new security positions were created by raiding Other Than Personnel Services, a CUNY funding line that, as its name implies, is stipulated for administrative expenses other than personnel salaries. In contrast, that year, 173 faculty CUNY-wide, 50 at City College, were fired because of budget cuts.
With the OTPS money, Reynolds had Elique establish the security squad she wanted. And she had it outfitted with military wares.
In fall 1998, Keith Higgenbotham of the Hunter Envoy reported that CUNY purchased in excess of 110,000 rounds of small arms ammunition worth more than $30,000. That’s about one bullet for every two CUNY students. The ammunition included what some might consider inappropriate firepower for typical campus security, including 9mm hollow point, .38 caliber Ny-Clad, and 12-gauge shotgun rounds. In addition to the ammunition, CUNY Security purchased seven Smith & Wesson .38 caliber pistols and eight Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistols. Seven of the Glocks were also fitted with “night sights,” which allow targets to be seen in low-light conditions.
Over the three years of expense records Higgenbotham reviewed, other types of so-called “non-lethal” crowd and riot control equipment were also purchased. These included hundreds of ASP extending batons, over 400 mace/pepper spray dispensers, body armor, and federally approved riot helmets.
While CUNY officials told Higgenbotham that the equipment was necessary to maintain the peace, crime rates at CUNY campuses remained constant over the past decade, including for violent crimes. In 1998, there were only a dozen violent crimes on the 21 CUNY campuses around the city.
Of what use this arsenal would be is also a good question if only because only campus presidents can permit armed security on campus, something campus presidents have been reluctant to do. Only Lehman College has armed security. In 1996, then-City College president Yolanda Moses, no friend of students, rejected a proposal put forth by CCNY Security Director Timothy Hubbard to have campus security armed.
In 1997 Elique generated a rationale for the squad’s already purchased arsenal. Elique manufactured a decree—without consent from the 21 campus presidents—that all CUNY campus events that necessitate a metal detector must have an armed CUNY or NYPD officer present.
“A formidable deterrent”
So if the extra security personnel and their equipment weren’t needed for crime, then what? The role of the Chancellor’s special squad, the “SAFE Team,” a name Orwell would love, was to act as the Chancellor’s political hit squad and to assure that 1991’s display of student power did not occur again. Five of the first six times the SAFE Team was deployed to CUNY campuses involved responding to student protests.
A 1995 memo from Captain Raymond McDermott of the New York Police Department’s Disorder Control Unit to Elique confirmed the prime purpose of the SAFE Team was to squelch student activism. Elique had requested suggestions concerning situations, according to McDermott’s memo, “that would necessitate the possible need of a substantial police response to a specific campus for a non-emergency event, student protest, etc.”
McDermott stunning memo summed up, “As a platoon of three squads, these… Teams become a formidable deterrent.” The McDermott memo describes the training the Disorder Unit would provide the SAFE Team including “Conduct of Safety Personnel at a Student Protest, Sit In,” “Use of Flex Cuffs,” “Mass Arrest Procedures,” and “Building Clearing Techniques.”
The Team put its training to use. Court documents reveal it maintained an enemies list of CUNY student activists. The list included information on the students’ racial and ethnic backgrounds, their birth dates, home addresses, Social Security numbers, enrollment statuses, and arrest records. The data were culled from NYPD records and students’ personal CUNY files. The list was used by Security to bar these student activists from campus events. David Suker of City College was denied entry to the Hunter College campus for an April 1996 organizing event after Security checked a list and discovered his name.
A memo from CUNY Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs Elsa Nunez-Wormack to the campus presidents warned, “We have learned that CUNY protest organizers are well organized and maintain tight control over the information to [sic] planned protest activities.” The memo was dated a day after the Hunter organizing event Suker was denied entrance, indicating a Security mole had likely been placed in the meeting.
As described by Lee Wengraf in the Graduate Center Advocate, at a March 1995 City Hall rally at which 20,000 CUNY students and their supporters protested proposed budget cuts, though off-campus, SAFE Team members monitored students. Log entries made by SAFE Team members that day included, “Assigned to plainsclothes to monitor demonstration at City Hall,” and “On duty at City Hall monitoring demonstration.”
In April 1995, columns of SAFE Team and NYPD officers in riot gear arrested 47 CUNY students hunger striking against budget cuts in the NAC Rotunda at City College. The students were kept over night in “the Tombs,” notorious holding cells near Manhattan Criminal Court. SAFE Team logs, revealed in a discovery phase of a subsequent lawsuit students filed against CUNY, showed that two days after the CCNY arrests, student activists, doing nothing illegal, were still being kept under surveillance. “Paperwork related to the duties conducted along with a constant observance of movements of ‘Key’ players involved in the hunger strike,” the log read.
In May 1998, SAFE officers helped install a video camera in a fake smoke detector outside a student activist office (NAC 3/201) where Security thought students were planning takeovers in response to CUNY’s plans to end remedial courses. When students discovered the camera—with a SAFE Team officer’s name on it!—they alerted the media and filed a still-pending lawsuit against CUNY for violating their constitutional right to free assembly. The camera proved a national embarrassment to the University.
We’ve reviewed only the most notorious of the incidents. But throughout Elique’s tenure SAFE officers would routinely brutalize student activists at protests—one Hunter student was illegally strip-searched—and disrupt their perfectly legal events. In February 1999, one SAFE officer started what became a police riot during a conference on Mumia Abu-Jamal held at City College.
“Evil and illegal actions”
We will describe one last incident that provides an inside look at Elique’s CUNY operation.
On November 6, 1995 the SAFE Team was dispatched to the York College campus in Queens. There, the Team set up a phalanx at the campus entrance through which students wishing to enter their campus had to pass and show their IDs.
The reason? Nation of Islam speaker Khalid Muhammad was invited by students to speak for Black Solidarity Day. York administrators claimed the student group that invited the controversial Muhammad had not filled in the proper forms (Later, to administrator embarrassment, the students proved they in fact had.)
When Muhammad arrived, the SAFE Team barred his entrance. Muhammad and the students marched in protest around the perimeter of the campus until Acting York College President Thomas Minter relented and allowed the speech to take place.
In June 1996 York College’s Director of Security Winston Burrows resigned. The following are excerpts from a memo attached to his letter of resignation from York. The memo is dated July 4 and was addressed to then-CUNY Chancellor Ann Reynolds.
After 17 1¼2 years of service at York College I decided to resign… because I could not let myself become party to the illegal scheme put forth by City University Director of Public Safety Jose Elique and his Deputy Martin Rodini. At our November/95 security directors meeting they announced a plan designed to deny students and others their constitution [sic] right of free speech…
My reason for leaving is my dissatisfaction with the leadership of Jose Elique, your choice for CUNY Public Safety Director as well as his Deputy Martin Rodini. Since his arrival Jose Elique has never displayed qualities I felt necessary for such an important position. His dictatorial, abrasive, confrontational style, and use of profanity at directors meetings—where he often used f—k and f—king in the presence of females I found offensive and very unprofessional. It demonstrated a lack of moral and ethical character…
I decided to leave CUNY after attending the security directors meeting in November ’95. At that meeting Jose Elique and Martin Rodini—apparently still upset and smarting because Acting [York] President Thomas Minter had permitted Khalid Muhammad to speak at the college on November 6, 1995. They made the following proposal—which they indicated was intended to give you and them control of persons who would be permitted to speak on CUNY campuses. They were working on a proposal that would attach a fee between $5,500.00 to $7,500.00 whenever the SAFE Team was dispatched to a campus (in response to a request of a college President). That to me was censorship, a violation of the Constitution of the U.S., and ran contrary to everything I believe in—justice, honesty, and fairness. While at that meeting I came to the conclusion that although I may sometimes disagree with students I will never let myself be a part of any such evil and illegal action as was proposed by Jose Elique and Martin Rodini…
Burrows continued his memo by describing the events of November 6 at York, including the agreement York College made with the SAFE Team three days before. According to Burrows, Elique and Rodini, whom Burrows calls “two of the most morally bankrupt persons I have met,” violated that agreement:
“[Acting President] Minter informed both Jose Elique and Martin Rodini that he did not want any SAFE team members to bring their weapon onto the campus on Monday 11/06/95. As they were leaving the building, I heard Jose Elique comment to Martin Rodini that ‘He is in for a surprise, and he better get used to guns on campus.’ The rest is history, two SAFE team members did bring weapons with them on Monday, 11/06/95.”
After describing the events of November 6, Burrows writes Elique and Rodini informed him he was fired from his position as Queens Borough Coordinator of CUNY Security:
“The reason they gave me for removing me had nothing to do with my performance as Borough Coordinator. Their statement to me was ‘You are not a team member, and you did not get involved as Timothy Hubbard did.’ His reference was to City College Security Director and Manhattan Borough Coordinator Timothy Hubbard who arrested a student who grabbed him by his collar during a demonstration that took place at City College. Apparently Jose Elique and Martin Rodini wanted a confrontation to take place [at York]…”
In his concluding salvo Burrows blasted Reynolds for CUNY Security’s Pentagon spending habits, then at $40 million a year, particularly obscene at a time of alleged fiscal austerity:
“[W]ith the fiscal problems facing the university resulting in reduction of student services, retrenchment, and loss of jobs by tenured faculty members you established the position of Lieutenant (REQUIRING ONLY A GENERAL EDUCATION DIPLOMA) with the top salary of $82,000.00—more than a tenured professor with a Ph.D earns.” In 1998, Elique proposed making still another rank with pay of $90,000, rivaling the salaries of college presidents.
We at CUNY can only marvel at UNLV students who, after fighting so hard to dump abusive security directors, helped install one the country’s vilest.
“If [Elique] can accomplish instituting a true community policing culture amongst this force, then that’s going to be a great achievement,” Joey Cohn, a founder of Students Against Police Misconduct and member of UNLV’s Public Safety Advisory Board told the Review-Journal.
We wish Las Vegas good luck, as the campus may very well need it when Elique implements his brand of “friendly university community policing.”
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