Daily Campus History: Student protests and the rise of the UCPD

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The period from the 1960s until the early 1970s was a time of widespread protest, and college campuses were a center for these demonstrations. At the same time this was happening, a myriad of campus police forces appeared across the country. According to Bill Taylor, chief of police at San Jacinto College in 2015, these forces were formed in part due to “a growing concern that local and state police forces weren’t doing enough to mitigate the disorder” caused by the protests. The University of Connecticut played host to many protests at this time, and the creation of a police force almost directly after also happened at Storrs. 

The UConn Police Department was created from the already existing UConn Security department. In a May 2, 1972 Connecticut Daily Campus article, the change from security to police was initiated by a bill signed by Connecticut Governor Thomas Meskill. Some of the reasons given for this change included “[keeping] the morale of the staff high” and “[increasing] training opportunities.” Later in the year, a Sept. 11 article better illustrated the new structure once it had been implemented. Robert Nielsen, a leading official in the new organization, spoke to the paper, and stated that he was “[keeping] busy getting ‘as much training as [he could]’” for his new position as a police official. According to the article, he had been switched into this position from student activities that spring with “no prior experience in the field.” 

While the articles detailing the creation of the UConn police force make no mention of student protests being a motivating factor, both the hasty organization of the department shown by Nielsen’s unpreparedness of the job and the presence that student protest had on campus leading up to the decision to establish police hint at a possible correlation. 

One of the many instances of protest during this period came in 1968, when 12 people associated with the group Students for a Democratic Society were arrested while protesting the company Dow Chemical’s presence on campus. Dow was there to interview UConn students for job opportunities, but many stood up to this due to Dow’s involvement in the production of napalm used in Vietnam. The president of UConn at the time was Homer Babbidge, who would stay in office until right after the establishment of the police force in 1972. 

Protesting continued through the rest of Babbidge’s term and afterward, with one protest of over 200 people marching from North Campus to Mirror Lake occurring in response to Richard Nixon’s escalation policies in Vietnam. This march took place on May 10, 1972, only nine days before Governor Meskill signed the bill setting the establishment of UCPD in motion. 

In short, UConn’s police presence came to be because people in power felt threatened by students’ assembly, a right they are guaranteed by the Constitution. It was created in a haste and staffed by people without the proper credentials, just so that certain people could feel comfortable. 

The theme of UConn taking unnecessary policing-related measures to create a sense of comfort has never gone away. In last Friday’s issue of The Daily Campus, the front page story explained how UCPD currently has “82 AR-15s, 130 pistols and nearly 105,000 rounds of ammunition” in its arsenal. This begs the question, what would that ever be used for? According to their website, UCPD has 100 sworn police officers across all campuses, which means they have more pistols than officers. As for AR-15s, what could these possibly do except making people scared? 

The so-called Division of Public Safety is meant to keep the public safe, and having a huge arsenal might in theory prepare UCPD to defend against a large threat, but this threat simply isn’t something Storrs is going to have to deal with. However, tuition-paying members of the community fund this organization and its extreme over-preparedness year after year. What started in the aftermath of UConn’s administration being unable to control unrest on its campus has become what’s actually out of control at this university. 

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