Defund and demilitarize the UCPD

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Between the expensive complex they’re housed in and the amount of lethal equipment that they have, UConn PD has an amount of equipment that is unreasonable for a campus police department. In the context of exposing of police brutality across the nation these past few years, the ludicrous arsenal UConn PD has is problematic. Photo by Alex Leo/The Daily Campus.

In August, a Freedom of Information Act request was initiated by UConn philosophy PhD student steve núñez. It revealed that the University of Connecticut Police Department’s arsenal contains 82 AR-15s, 130 pistols, 61 tasers and 104,750 rounds of ammunition. The Daily Campus fully supports the criticisms and questions articulated by núñez in this article, and wants to elaborate on the problems of a militarized university police department. 

In 2020, the Department of Administrative Services, along with then-UConn President Thomas Katsouleas initially denied núñez’s request for information about the UCPD weaponry on the grounds that it could endanger the lives of officers. Such information was later released accidentally by UConn legal representatives anyway. In response to a Daily Campus request for comment, a statement provided by the UCPD Chief Gerald Lewis claims the department’s inventory “contains an adequate amount of equipment to enable our officers to meet our goal of being able to protect our university community against potentially violent situations” and supports efforts to “prevent these types of incidents before they occur.” 

As núñez notes in the above article, these FOIA documents do not note the full extent of the department’s arsenal, as indicated by the DOD 1033 program which distributes military weapons to police departments around the country. Further, another FOIA request by núñez found that the five most frequent crimes addressed by the UCPD are non-violent. On these grounds alone, the extent of the department’s weapons cannot be reasonably claimed to contribute to the public safety at UConn.

Massive firepower among officers of public safety may actually contribute to potential threats. The threat of “potentially violent situations” is related to a culture of gun-ownership in the United States, and to the veneration of figures such as police officers who brandish deadly weapons. An armory filled with weapons such as assault rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles may contribute to the alienation of “public safety” officers from the communities they are supposed to serve.  

According to the philosophy that officers of public safety should carry deadly weapons throughout the community, it may make sense to account for one reasonably deadly weapon per officer within the arsenal. The amount of deadly weapons the UCPD holds currently is in wild excess of this amount, and their killing capabilities equally exceed the probability of a “potentially violent situation” which the department believes could justify such an arsenal.  

UConn PD has a budget of $18 million, a budget that does not reflect their typical response to non-violent crimes. With a state of the art facility and plenty of police vehicles already being used, it brings up the question of where the majority of this budget is going. Photo by Alex Leo/The Daily Campus.

The actual probability of such an attack occurring on campus, the utility of excessively deadly weapons to respond, and thus the efficacy of a heavily armored police force are all things we can’t reliably assess. The UCPD itself is unable to adequately explain both the probability of such attacks and how their excessive weaponry would help the community if such an attack did occur. On the other hand, UConn is already faced with innumerable problems, the harm of which to our community is evident and the solutions to which require scarce funds.  

UConn needs mental health counseling accessible to students regardless of their ability to pay to address mental health issues faced by the student body which have resulted in suicide. We need subsidies for students who struggle with food and housing insecurity. We need more resources for teachers and students, especially those whose departments face and have faced downsizing and budget cuts as a result of COVID-19. We need programs helping low-income families access UConn, such as the Connecticut Commitment, which was defunded last year. Every dollar spent on a weapon is a dollar that could have been allocated towards these issues, which contribute to the suffering of the community, all caused by poor distribution of resources. 

As noted by the student movement Defund UCPD in the summer of 2020, the department’s budget is $18 million. The vast majority of crimes this department responds to are drug and alcohol related, and their past conduct responding to sexual assault cases, the most frequent kind of violent crime, is less than satisfactory. Only half of the UCPD’s budget could provide 64 mental health counselors at UConn Student Health and Wellness, and this same amount of money could allow many low-income students to attend UConn and pay for innumerably more meals for hungry students. 

The amount of weapons and funding which the UCPD has at present are untenable. As a critical matter of public safety, the contents of their armory should be public knowledge, or at least accessible by Freedom of Information requests. Further, given the consequences to public livelihood at UConn, our police department’s arms and funding should be democratized, and approved by the community rather than administrators alone. Most importantly, we need to invest every available dollar in desperately needed human resources, not more weapons or police. 

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