Defund UConn Police; Invest in the community

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by The DefundUCPD Steering Committee

The 1960s were a tumultuous time on college campuses across the United States. Students staged marches, sit-ins and occupations in the midst of the anti-war, black liberation, feminist and environmental movements. In response, colleges across the country lobbied legislatures to create their own police forces, which would explicitly be used as weapons of social control — not public safety, as they now claim. 

UConn is no different: The UConn Police Department (UCPD) was created in 1972. Since then, it has continued to offer little help to the UConn community. As students have discussed on social media in recent days, UCPD often escalates situations, particularly for women and students of color, especially Black students.

The circumstances that led to the creation of campus police mirror the circumstances that led to the creation of municipal police. Contrary to popular belief, police do not exist to “protect and serve” — they began as runaway slave patrols in the south and industry-led attempts to suppress working class rebellion in the north. They have always been tools of social control and state-sanctioned violence, explicitly designed to suppress Black and poor communities.

Fast forward to the present day, where protests sparked by the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black men, women and non-binary folks are rocking the nation. Protesters across the country are demanding an end to “police reform” efforts and are instead calling for the defunding, disarming and dismantling of the police. They are demanding that we invest in the root causes of “crime,” like homelessness, poverty, underfunded social services, unaddressed mental health issues and poor education, rather than trying to police our way out of problems created for our communities via systemic racism. They are demanding an end to police violence, which almost always targets Black communities and steals Black lives.

As has been true throughout history, students are at the forefront of this movement, both to defund and dismantle the police at a local level, and within institutions of education. Already students at Yale University, Harvard University, and the University of Chicago, among others, have led protests calling for their campus police forces to be disbanded. 

We would like to specifically highlight the inadequacy of campus police in dealing with sexual assault and rape. In recent weeks, numerous victim-survivors have come forward on social media to detail their experiences. We stand unequivocally with the victim-survivors and applaud their courage in coming forward with painful memories. In many of these stories, UCPD has either ignored or actively harmed the victim-survivor. The police are fundamentally incapable of dealing with sexual assault. Healing for victim-survivors and accountability for perpetrators does not exist within the constraints of the police. 

According to data obtained via FOIA request, between 2014 and 2018, the UConn Police received 79 reports of sexual assault. Of these reports, only two investigations led to arrests. In addition, many victim-survivors do not come forward with reports due to the reputation of the police. Sexual assault should be handled by trained social workers, mental health professionals and community members — not cops.

We would also like to emphasize that a vast majority of the work that UCPD does is unnecessary policing. Between 2016 and 2018, the UConn Police Department filed 2,428 crime reports. Of these, 2,150 — or 88.56% — were drug or alcohol related. Sending the police in to handle drug and alcohol issues is completely unnecessary. We don’t need the threat of violence or arrest to handle these situations. We need community-based solutions.  

All this being said, we demand that the University:

  1. Fully defund UCPD’s $18 million budget. 
  2. Reinvest these funds. The first 50% should be used to:
    1. Dramatically expand SHAW-MH. Through data obtained by FOIA requests and OpenPayroll CT, we know that just half of UCPD’s budget could pay for approximately 64 new therapists within SHAW-MH. SHAW-MH should also use reinvested funds to hire racially and linguistically diverse, LGBTQ+ sensitive therapists and to station multiple therapists at each regional campus, which are severely underserved. We also support the proposed reforms to SHAW-MH set forth by organizers at Mental Health Action Day in February 2020;
    2. The second 50% should be used to: 
      1. Avoid COVID-19-related austerity cuts and furloughs to graduate student and non-tenured faculty positions, and compensation to student workers for lost wages in the Spring semester;
      2. In the long run, create financial aid designated specifically for Black students to address historical inequity; and reparative financial aid for indigenous students.
  3. Immediately stop the practice of sending UCPD officers to conduct wellness checks, and instead send trained mental health professionals.
  4. Immediately stop the practice of handling sexual assault cases with UCPD. Hire social workers, trained community members and mental health professionals to handle sexual assault cases.

If the University administration would like to negotiate, we will only do so in the public eye, with full accountability for all involved. If UConn stands with black and brown students, victims of sexual assault and students of underserved communities, administration should agree to our demands.

Sincerely,

DefundUCPD Steering Committee

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