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UC students, faculty discuss future of campus policing at safety symposium

University of California students and faculty voiced their opinions on the future of policing at the UC at a symposium Wednesday. (Kanishka Mehra/Photo editor)

By Rania Soetirto

March 26, 2021 3:25 p.m.

In an effort to reimagine campus safety and policing, University of California students and faculty voiced their demands to reinvest funds from UCPD at a symposium Wednesday.

In a two-part event, campus leaders, faculty, students and staff discussed the future of the UC’s campus safety and police departments at the UC Campus Safety Symposium. The first part of the symposium was held Feb. 2.

The University organized the symposium to review the UC police departments’ training, accountability and community outreach in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others in the hands of police brutality, said John Pérez, chair of the UC Board of Regents, in his opening remarks at the first symposium.

During the symposium, some students called for the abolishment of UCPD and reinvestment of funds into students’ basic needs.

The UC cannot support students’ basic needs or close equity gaps if it doesn’t consider the negative impacts that uniformed and militarized police have on the general well-being of students, said Gwen Chodur, UC Graduate and Professional Council president, at the symposium.

During the student-led discussions, Naomi Riley, the UC Council of Presidents undergraduate co-chair, said UCPD and other police departments have tried to implement civilian review boards and body cameras as well as training for implicit bias and chokeholds, but none were able to abolish the oppressive nature of policing.

Instead of investing more funds in law enforcement, the UC should invest in addressing causes of student insecurity, which include improving student mental health support, combating student homelessness, addressing student hunger and supporting students who are foster youth, said Riley, the Undergraduate Students Association Council president and a fourth-year political science student at UCLA.

Riley also said the UC spent $136 million on policing in the 2019-2020 year, while some student programs do not receive funding.

Naomi Waters, the vice chair of the UC Student Association Racial Justice Now campaign, said at the event that she thinks at least 40% of officers on duty should be unarmed and trained to deal with situations nonviolently.

Although some at the symposium called to abolish police at UC campuses, some supported the UC’s police departments.

Martin Reed, assistant vice chancellor for student life and residence education at UC Merced, said UC Merced has a good partnership with its campus police department. Reed said UC Merced’s police department helps address Title IX cases and deal with “students of concern.”

“They’re not perfect, but I prefer them over Merced City and Merced County police,” Reed said.

Liz Halimah, the associate vice provost for graduate, undergraduate and equity affairs at the UC Office of the President and chair of the symposium’s planning team, presented updates on campus safety based on data and responses provided by each UC campus’s safety task force.

During the presentation, some symposium participants were quick to voice disappointment at the statistics on police stops, which they said lacked transparency. For example, the statistics did not specify which UC campus they came from.

Michelle Servin, co-chair of the Underground Scholars Initiative at UCLA and co-founder of No UCPD Coalition at UCLA, said at the symposium’s panel that the bar graphs from the task forces were not put in context with the demographic data of people in the UC system.

“It shows that white population has the highest number of stops,” Servin said. “But that is actually in proportion to the amount of white people in the UC system.”

Participants also expressed their thoughts on how law enforcement should function during the symposium’s panel discussions.

Katie Tinto, a clinical law professor at UC Irvine and director of the Criminal Justice Clinic, said the UC could decriminalize nonviolent and low-level misdemeanors such as trespassing because they often overlap with mental health issues and homelessness.

Instead of using armed police officers to make arrests and criminalize trespassers, the UC could instead give them transportation, food and access to shelter, Tinto said.

Kerby Lynch, the co-chair of the Independent Advisory Board on Police Accountability and Campus Safety, said she hopes the UC, particularly UC President Michael Drake, the UC’s first Black president, is committed to holding UCPD accountable to the UC community.

Originally from North Vallejo, California, Lynch said she grew up in an area with one of the deadliest police departments in the country.

“There are killer police departments in the state of California and I don’t want to see UCPD be one of those,” Lynch said.

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Rania Soetirto
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