Contrary to calls by student and faculty activists to abolish the University of California Police Department, the UC system proposed new measures to strengthen their police. Recently publicized documents from February 2021 show that the UC system plans to provide funding for a Systemwide Response Team with new riot-gear, allow officers discretion to turn off body cameras, revise the proper usage of police force, among other things. These measures were proposed to better comply with UC policy requirements, previous task force recommendations and recent state legislative changes.
As the UC system’s proposed policy circulated through social media on May 3, the UC San Diego Cops Off Campus Coalition, or UCSD FTP, used the public backlash to galvanize more people within the UC community to take part in demonstrations against police. As part of the Transnational Day of Refusal, FTP called on members to withhold their labor at work and to not attend classes. On the same day, a few dozen UCSD students and faculty marched along North Torrey Pines Road to further raise awareness about police abolition.
“Our goal is to end policing on campuses, but we don’t see that happening overnight,” UCSD FTP affiliate and history professor Simeon Man said to The UCSD Guardian. “Part of the work is to imagine what a police-free campus looks like. Abolition is not just the removal of police, but it is also about creating the conditions to not need police. On our campus, it is important to think about how we address food insecurity, housing insecurity, and the lack of mental health counseling. What if we divested funds from the police and funneled money into these other programs?”
Intense public debate has taken shape over the concept that police presence is not a necessary component for a safe campus community. According to a recent report from UC Los Angeles, less than 10 percent of UCLA campus policing activity actually involved force or the threat of violence. As a result, the use of police for non-threatening events has been called into question, since a majority of incidents reported are property-related.
As more students and faculty demand for divestment of campus policing in exchange for community-based notions of safety, the UC system has been imbalanced with their response. While UC President Michael V. Drake lamented the persistence racial profiling and police violence against protestors, his administration proposed to create a Systemwide Response Team that is akin to a traditional police SWAT team. While the statement of purpose remains vague on the role of the SRT, the equipment provision for weapons such as chemical agents and kinetic energy projectiles — tear gas, smoke grenades, or pepperball guns — indicates that the group may be deployed against large gatherings.
“We’ve seen egregious examples of police using force on students when they are protesting,” Man said. “UC Davis had the infamous pepper spray incident. At UC Riverside, students were protesting a UC Regents meeting and were met with rubber bullets. In the last decade, we’ve seen these examples of peaceful protestors, students demanding changes to their university, where the police were called to quell and suppress.”
The proposed policy further stipulates that officers will be able to have discretion to turn off body cameras under certain circumstances regarding public safety and privacy. While generally required to be on for investigative or enforcement activities, body cameras could be turned off by the officer based on their personal judgment. All usage or the lack thereof would later be logged by the officer after the incident.
UCSD FTP affiliate and professor of literature Sal Nicolazzo expressed concern that increased militarization of campus police would detract from addressing student needs.
“UCOP is claiming the need for reforms in order to prevent some of the problems that happened [in the past, like at UC Davis],” Nicolazzo said. “If the response is, ‘let’s arm more officers with pepper spray,’ it seems like the real goal is to prevent student protests against things like tuition hikes. Why are we not thinking about how to meet the demands of students for an affordable and accessible education? [The proposed policy] is obviously going to increase the budget, scope and militarization of campus police, when instead we could be asking how we can foundationally rethink what safety looks like on our campuses.”
In response to these concerns about the use of force, the UC system pointed to their Universitywide Policing Implementation Report to highlight their previous reforms. UC San Diego in particular has been compliant with UC recommendations to train officers on de-escalation techniques and the proper use of all equipment. The university also claims that it has fully implemented a system to review uses of force post-incident to ensure its compliance with state and federal laws.
“UC convened the two-day Campus Safety Symposium on Feb. 2 and March 24 to continue engaging with the University community on this critical issue, while exploring various perspectives and experiences,” UCOP Senior Communications Strategist Stett Holbrook said in an email to The UCSD Guardian. “As a result of the valuable input we received during the symposium and subsequent feedback from a wide variety of University stakeholders, President Michael V. Drake, M.D., plans on issuing new campus safety guidelines this summer.”
While the UC system stated that they are currently under a review process until the end of May with various stakeholders about UCPD policies and procedures, the UC system may still go through with new policy implementations via a presidential plan on public safety. Although Professors Nicolazzo and Man –– who both have done research on policing and US-race relations –– stated that they were not contacted for comment, the UC system claims that they asked the UC Student Association, faculty, staff, students, the Academic Senate and union leaders for review. The review process may provide recommendations for changes to police practices, but the UC system is not beholden to follow through with them.
“The proposed changes to the UCPD’s policies completely ignore people’s demands, and further the UCOP’s push for a militarized form of policing, particularly with the proposed Systemwide Response Team,” third-year anthropology student Skye Zhang said to the UCSD Guardian. “These policies are not just the tired ‘reforms’ we keep seeing meant to quell rightfully outraged civilians; these are actively harmful and threatening policies that prove abolishing university campus police is absolutely essential.”
The Cops Off Campus Coalition will continue to hold events throughout the month for Abolition May. Please refer to the University of California’s June 2020 implementation report or the February 2021 management and employee consultation document to learn more about UCPD and its recent policy initiatives. New official guidelines for UC Policing will be issued this summer.
Photo courtesy of Simeon Man on Twitter.
This article was edited on May 13, 2021 at 10:58 AM to address additional context for the new UCPD policy.