Student Senate to propose University police demilitarization bill

If passed by the University Senate, the bill will next go to President Joan Gabel.

by Ava Thompson, Campus Activities Reporter

The University of Minnesota Student Senate drafted a bill, slated for introduction on Feb. 25, that calls for the University of Minnesota to begin taking measures to demilitarize police forces across all campuses.

Stemming from advocacy efforts after the police killing of George Floyd, the bill states that military-grade firearms have “no place in civilian law enforcement.”

“The origin of policing in protecting settlers at the expense of indigenous people and enforcing slavery, as well as the contemporary issues that led to the killing of George Floyd, make it difficult for affected communities to trust the police,” the bill said.

If passed by the University Senate, the bill will go to the Office of the President.

Briggs Tople, Student Senate chair and author of the bill, said he started writing drafts in July and began consultation in early October. In drafting the bill, Tople said he consulted with student body presidents across University campuses. He also talked to several University offices, including the Office for Student Affairs and the Office for Equity and Diversity.

“Getting [de]militarized completely — not just from firearms but also equipment in our police forces — is a monumental step that I don’t think any other university has taken,” Tople said.

The bill references the three military-grade firearms that the University of Minnesota Police Department can use. These include Glocks and rifles like the AR-15, a weapon used in several recent mass shootings, including in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“AR-15’s, which are deemed to be military-grade firearms, should have no place in civilian law enforcement; the demilitarization of police forces is desirable as a general matter,” the bill said.

According to Tople, other University campuses have similarly strained relationships with their police departments.

“Students around the system are asking for a significant change,” Tople said.

Olivia Crull, a member of the University chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, said demilitarizing UMPD has been a part of the organization’s demands since spring 2018.

“It’s just absolutely egregious that money that’s coming from students’ tuition is being used to buy military surplus equipment,” Crull said. “It’s just so not necessary for a campus police department to have militarized weaponry, so I think that it seems like a very achievable thing to demilitarize UMPD.”

Crull said she also believes there will not be significant change until there is community control over the police.

“If campus doesn’t have control over these decisions, then the next president could come in and approve the purchase of military equipment; so we want these changes to be lasting, and we want these to be structural,” Crull said.