Letter to the Editor: What We Mean By Defund UMPD: Investing in Prevention, Not Punishment

by Letter to the Editor

In the summer of 2018, I experienced a case of harassment on campus. Another student imposed a threat to me, themselves and others. Although I had only known the student for a week, it was made clear to me that they had a poor relationship with a large student group and were seeking revenge. Because I was working in a University building at the time, the student asked me to help them break into the group’s meeting space. When I responded that I was uncomfortable with the situation, a more serious and potentially violent threat was made that implicated the student involved and the group as a whole.

I was terrified. I didn’t know how to respond. I was hesitant to contact the police, because I didn’t want the student to be arrested or expelled. I was aware that the student had issues with mental health that needed attention. However, I knew that this was a dangerous situation; they had breached the student code of conduct. Students on campus – myself included – felt unsafe. I had to report it somewhere.

I contacted the leader of the student group and was adamant about not taking it to the police. They helped me navigate through the bureaucracy of the University to find a resource that I don’t think many students are familiar with — the Behavioral Consultation Team (BCT) and Care Program housed in Appleby Hall. After getting a clear understanding of the situation from both parties, the Care Manager sent a letter to the student explaining that they had broken the code of conduct, and they would not be able to contact me as the reporter. From there, the team connected them with mental health support.

The goal of BCT is to provide a coordinated response to situations arising from students who may represent a threat of harm to themselves or others. Membership includes staff from several departments across the University with administrative, psychological, academic and legal expertise. Some current representatives include the Aurora Center, Boynton Health, Disability Resource Center, Office of Student Affairs, Student Counseling Services and Student Advocate Services

We need to invest in restorative and transformative justice, mental health, and student advocacy services. BCT is one form of transformative justice that we already have on campus. Transformative justice responses and interventions:

  1. do not rely on the state (e.g. police, prisons, the criminal legal system, I.C.E.);
  2. do not reinforce or perpetuate violence; 
  3. actively cultivate violence prevention through healing, accountability, resilience, and safety for all involved.

This is an unequivocal example of how transformative justice can be a more efficient, more just, and less traumatic method for intervention. We do not need the police to serve as a potentially threatening and unhelpful middle man. We can connect reporters and perpetrators directly with the support they need. When we’re asking to Defund UMPD, we’re asking to invest in prevention, not punishment.