Why we are calling for an end to the University of Utah Police Department

As of today, UnsafeU is calling for the University of Utah to dissolve its police department.

For those that have been following our work over the past year, our previous position regarding the University of Utah Police Department (UUPD) is that it was capable of reform and should be given additional resources, training, and support in order to address safety issues on campus. This is no longer our belief.

Why have we changed our position on this?

  1. We listened to students. In February, former ASUU VP of Student Relations Gabe Martinez introduced a bill that would have provided $30,000 to a space in the new University of Utah student union building, once constructed. The ASUU Assembly passed this bill, after hearing significant testimony from students of color about the harm they believe this bill would cause, with a vote of 19–9. This vote and the inappropriate comments made by the Chair of Assembly, as well as many of the members of the body led to the resignation of two ASUU Assembly members in protest. The ASUU Senate heard the same legislation two days later and struck down the bill with a unanimous vote. During this meeting, dozens of students testified over a two hour period to the direct, negative impact that policing overall as well as the UUPD had had on their safety, wellness, and well being on campus. Students were loud and clear about their message: the UUPD does not help students, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, and Students of Color, feel safer at the University of Utah.
  2. We listened to victims and survivors. We have received over 100 accounts of how the UUPD, OEO, and the Dean of Students office have grossly mishandled sexual assault, rape, mental health, and IPV cases. The overwhelming consensus from many of these stories and reports is that victims and survivors were never provided the resources that they needed at the time of their reports or after.
  3. We listened to our community and our country. The murder of George Floyd ignited a national conversation about the role and necessity of policing. Over the past week, we have been looking through many police abolition resources and strongly believe that we can achieve a safer community through dissolving the UUPD and replacing it with robust investment into resource offices in our campus community. The University of Minnesota announced the termination of its contract with the MPD; the Minneapolis City Council announced that they will be dissolving the MPD. There has never been a better time to collectively band together to reimagine what safety means in our communities.
  4. We are not making progress quickly enough. We have spent the better part of a year in meetings with administrators at the University of Utah. While Chief Safety Office Marlon Lynch and Chief of Police Rodney Chatman have been making small improvements in communication, transparency, and accountability, it has become clear over time that no amount of reform will get students the assistance that they really need from the UUPD.

What about crime on campus? Don’t we need police to address this?

Below are the fully tabulated crime statistics collected by the University of Utah Department of Public Safety for 2016, 2017, and 2018 taken from the University of Utah 2019 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report.

This graph was created by UnsafeU using only the crime categories reported as having any data to report for the years 2016–2018 in order to more clearly see the percentage break downs of what type of crime is seen at the University of Utah.

This data clearly shows that the top three crimes on campus, which account for 71.3% of crime at the University of Utah, are substance-related.

This is an issue that can be completely and appropriately addressed with public health interventions and resources — not through police presence and intervention.

For the remaining 29.7% of crime on campus, it breaks down into a few major categories: IPV and Sexual Violence, Property, Alchohol, Substance, and Weapons, Aggravated Assault, Hate Crimes, and Murder.

This graph was created by UnsafeU using the remaining 29.7% of cases that did not fall into the top three categories of campus crime. The remaining categories were assigned a simplified category of IPV and Sexual Violence, Property, Alchohol, Substance, and Weapons, Aggravated Assault, Hate Crimes, or Murder in order to show more clearly the nature and category of crimes seen on campus outside of the top three.

Once we breakdown the remaining crimes, they fall almost entirely into IPV and Sexual Violence or Property crimes. The two crimes classified as murders on this chart, Lauren McCluskey and ChenWei Guo, were results of IPV and property crimes, respectively.

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is not an issue that is best treated by the police. In fact, the police are often more harmful in these cases than helpful. In the case of Lauren McCluskey, their involvement led to her death.

Had we dissolved the UUPD years ago, Lauren may still be alive. She might have been taken directly to the Center for Student Wellness and connected with a Victim-Survivor advocate who would have immediately relocated her to safe housing. She might have written a safety plan with her advocate. She could have gotten connected to an attorney at the Utah Victims Legal Clinic who would have helped her file a civil stalking injunction and secure an order of protection.

Had we dissolved the UUPD years ago, ChenWei might still be alive. He might have had access to parking in a location with more people, more lighting, and closer to the building he was coming from. We might have had a SafeBus, which he could have ridden to his car and been dropped off with a handful of other students. We might have had a safety escort program, where ChenWei might have walked with some volunteer students to his car on campus. The sheer presence of a group, in this case, might have been enough to deter the carjacking from happening. The University of Utah administration might have been more sensitive to the unease in which our international, Asian, and Asian-American students walked around campus for the months that followed and more publically addressed their concerns and their fears.

Policing at the University of Utah has not worked to protect our students from their worst fears and will not prevent these tragedies in the future. By letting go of an ineffective system that has failed hundreds (if not thousands) of students, we can reallocate money to properly fund resources and imagine a better future for all of us. The University of Utah implores us to “Imagine.” By imagining a campus without policing, we believe we can make the campus safer for ALL students.

University of Utah Marriott Library (photo from http://togetherwereached.org/facilities/library.php)

Where do we go from here?

We want to be clear that the goal of dissolving the UUPD is NOT to replace it with a different form of policing or surveillance, e.g. through the SLCPD. Policing on our campus does not work, cannot be reformed or repackaged, and does not make our students feel safe. Therefore, we issue the following demands:

  1. We call on the University of Utah to disband the University of Utah Police Department.
  2. We additionally call on the University of Utah to prohibit police departments from using city contracts with the University of Utah to do IRB-exempt data analysis, geographic and community profiling, human-computer amelioration studies, and predictive analytics. Instead, divert funds that would be used on partnerships like this to public service-related studies and community collaborations.
  3. Remove and ban surveillance tech from campus. The University of Utah Auxillary Services Committee is currently attempting to ban plastic A-frame stands on campus for advertising and proposing these stands be replaced with digital signs across campus that will collect 24/7 audio surveillance for “safety” purposes. Additionally, earlier this year, the campus community learned about a third-party company, Banjo, that was founded and run by a white supremacist. Surveillance technology is not the solution to safety, and we do not want to see it on our campus.
  4. Convert the $13-million dollar building approved to house the University of Utah Police Department into a Wellness Center that would house mental health, IPV and sexual violence services, counseling, legal aid, Office of Equal Opportunity, and other direct support for students. The current building in which these services are housed is inadequate, unwelcoming, and uninviting for students to access.
  5. Do not create active service contracts with the SLC PD, the Unified Police Department, the State Troopers, any other police department, or private security firms that would increase policing presence. The goal of dissolving UUPD is not just to replace one broken policing system with another. Contracts with any other type of policing organization would merely increase police presence on campus and afford even less ability for students to have input on safety. While our long-term goal is complete removal of police presence on campus, we recognize that in the interim, we may need to rely on other police departments like SLC PD to respond. We do not support any other agency responding to these calls nor do we support a private security firm contract.
  6. Reallocate money saved from dissolving the UUPD into the following areas, with the recommended percentages:
  • Center for Student Wellness and the University Counseling Center (60%): The Center for Student Wellness would capture most of the need for current crimes on the campus of the University of Utah. The alcohol, drug, and weapons crimes could be easily referred to a newly created subdivision of the Center for Student Wellness, specializing and using public health interventions to address these issues. This would be modeled after the University of Michigan Wellness Center. The cases that are IPV and sexual violence cases could be handled directly by this office, as well. The Center for Student Wellness currently employs three victim-survivor advocates and two practicum students but has had at least a 250% increase in use of services from July-November of 2019. Victims and survivors of IPV, sexual assault, stalking, and other forms of interpersonal violence deserve a staff that is well-supported and well-funded. Finally, the University Counseling Center would be able to use these funds to hire additional counselors to further decrease wait times for appointments, expand offerings to include more telemental health options and online scheduling, and more options for group therapy.
  • Legal Services for Students (20%): This newly established center would hire full-time, professional attorneys that can provide free advice and consultation on most legal matters, court representation in landlord-tenant and consumer cases in Salt Lake County, preparation, drafting, and review of legal documents, negotiation, and correspondence with adverse parties or their attorneys in an effort to settle cases without litigation, tax assistance, and other similar types of legal assistance. This would be modeled after the Legal Services for Students clinic at the University of Kansas.
  • Student centers and organizations (20%): The first place many of our students turn to when they have experienced something that has impacted their safety, health, or wellbeing is one of our resource centers or student organizations. Some of these organizations that need more support include the Black Cultural Center, Veterans Resource Center, CESA, Women’s Resource Center, and the LGBTQ Resource Center. UUPD has not been able to prevent any of the violence that students served by these centers’ experience, but properly funding these centers could actually allow them to properly heal and restore safety.

By disbanding the UUPD, we do not step into the unknown. The city council of Minneapolis has announced its intent to disband the MPD, a police department that is around 11 times larger than the UUPD. A wealth of research has been performed on community-based practices to mitigate violence and crime and to promote safety for all individuals within these communities. Some higher-educational institutions and cities across the country are already beginning to implement these practices, which we have cited in this article. We call upon the students at the University of Utah to make their voices heard and fight with us for the complete dissolution of the UUPD. Real progress for student safety is well-overdue, and such a move at our university would be a major step into a future in which all students may be safe on our campus.