UNC Police are responding to criticism over use of an undercover officer at the ongoing protest of the Confederate monument on the Chapel Hill campus known as Silent Sam.
“The recent use of an undercover officer on our campus was limited in both time and scope and was necessary because of extraordinary circumstances that included the very real potential for a violent outbreak at any time,” officials said in a Thursday evening release attributed to associate vice chancellor for campus safety and risk management Derek Kemp and UNC Police chief Jeff McCracken.
The use of an undercover officer came to light in a video that was circulated on social media late last week showing protesters confronting a uniformed officer who had previously told protesters he was a mechanic from Durham who was sympathetic to their cause. Officials described the use of an undercover officer as “rare” but add it is “a standard policing practice that has been used on other university campuses.”
Protesters from across the campus and the community at large have been protesting the statue honoring Confederate soldiers consistently since late August, when a rally was held on the first day of the fall semester.
Thursday’s statement said that “UNC Police have maintained a heightened presence around the monument to ensure that members of our community are safe and able to protest peacefully and have their free speech rights protected.”
The “heightened presence” is due in part to the white supremacist rally that was held in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August where a counter protester was killed. Kemp and McCracken said in Thursday’s statement, “we have been and remain concerned about our students getting caught in the middle of violent conflict similar to that experienced in Charlottesville, especially in the presence of the monument.”
The UNC statement was issued to combat “misinformation” but officials did not identify specific instances of “misinformation” being spread.
While UNC maintains the undercover officer was used to maintain the safety of the protesters, some were concerned the officer was monitoring the protesters’ activity.
“Our officers do not monitor the content of any protest beyond the public safety implications nor do they create reports about students or their law-abiding activities,” Kemp and McCracken wrote in Thursday’s release.
Officials add the officer was present to maintain safety and listen to concerns of protesters. “If you have read or made assumptions to the contrary about our campus, they are not true.”
A public comment session regarding Silent Sam is scheduled to be held at next week’s UNC Board of Trustees meeting.
The full statement issued Thursday can be found here.