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Community responds to UMN’s external review of police

Student activists say the review does not address their demands to fundamentally restructure or abolish UMPD.
Image by Audrey Rauth
A UMPD vehicle at their headquarters on the University of Minnesota campus on Thursday, June 18, 2020.

Five months after University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel announced an external review of the campus police department, Dr. Cedric Alexander presented his findings to the Board of Regents during its Feb. 12 meeting.

The report, released Jan. 26, has eight pillars, which include goals to build trust between the University community and University of Minnesota Police Department. The recommendations include the demilitarization of UMPD, which would “eliminate all military grade weapons, vehicles, ammunition, tear gas, except under certain conditions,” and a review of UMPD’s staffing needs. According to the report, Alexander spoke to over 200 people and held over 70 meetings in consultation for the review. Some students, however, are critical of the final product.

During Friday’s board meeting, Gabel announced the creation of the M Safe Implementation Team, comprising faculty, staff and students who will consider and effect Alexander’s recommendations. The nomination process is still taking place, she said.

According to Gabel, the implementation committee will be led by Dr. Kathy Quick, an associate professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and Dr. Mylene Culbreath, director of diversity and inclusion for the Graduate School Diversity Office.

“In order to really think about whether these recommendations are acted upon, or in what order or in what way, he recommends standing up an implementation committee, and we’re doing so,” Gabel said during the meeting.

During the meeting, Alexander spoke about balancing the needs of University community members who are concerned about crime and violence on campus with the needs of those who do not feel safe with the presence of UMPD.

Alexander noted that now that the report has been released, more difficult work on reforming UMPD has begun.

“There are no bad guys here. You have an outstanding police department that has done incredible work to work hard to try to build those relationships, but the challenges are still there,” Alexander said.

The University is working to immediately implement certain recommendations in the review, including installing body cameras, working with the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul to clarify the roles of UMPD, the Minneapolis Police Department and the St. Paul Police Department on areas around campus and placing the safety department under the purview of Senior Vice President Myron Frans.

One difficult aspect of the review is the disconnect between the data showing that UMPD has relatively few complaints and high satisfaction with the anecdotes and stories of students who have concerns about UMPD. One interpretation of this disconnect could be that students think they are interacting with UMPD as opposed to MPD.

“UMPD can be doing good work based on the data, and people can still be feeling unsafe. That can coexist. And so what we’re trying to do is find a set of evolutions, initiatives and engagements that help resolve that undeniable tension,” Gabel said.

Alexander stressed the importance of transparency within UMPD during the board meeting.

University community response

Some students have been critical of the nearly 60-page report, including Samiat Ajibola, the president of the Black Student Union (BSU).

The review was not in line with student activist requests to abolish or defund UMPD, she said.

Ajibola said while she felt Alexander listened to her and other student advocates during meetings in the fall, listening to activists is not enough; there has to be action following listening sessions.

“I believe that Black students on this campus specifically are tired of being told that [administrators] ‘hear us’ and that they ‘see us,’ but they continue to make steps to show the exact opposite,” Ajibola said. “I just believe [Alexander] may have heard us, and he listened to us, but he did not take it fully into consideration … because he completely disregarded the idea of defunding.”

BSU struggled to continue parts of its activism around the police while the review was ongoing, including an attempt to build a connection with UMPD, Ajibola said. During the fall, BSU asked the president’s office to speak with UMPD about the “current climate” of campus. According to Ajibola, the group was told to meet with Alexander directly because of the ongoing review instead of meeting with UMPD.

Andy Oien, an activist within the University’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), said that the review does not fulfill SDS’ demands for structural changes within UMPD.

Leah Spellman, a third-year graduate student at the University, is also critical of the review. She said she sees the review as proof the University is not listening to students, who have been advocating for the abolition of UMPD. Spellman has worked with SDS before but is not a member of the student group.

“The whole issue for me is that there’s still going to be a policing structure,” Spellman said. “Regardless of what they’re going to try and do and their actions moving forward, my hesitation is that they … still seem to want to maintain this idea that police are good and can be reformed when we’ve been telling them that you cannot reform a really deeply rooted racist structure.”

Anthony Scott, the president of the University’s Black Faculty and Staff Association, said that while the review is a great start, the University has more work to do for Black faculty.

“Because the review’s on public safety, it doesn’t address what we wanted to address as Black faculty and staff,” Scott said. “And that is protecting Black faculty and staff in terms of our ability to work at the University of Minnesota.”

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  • A Gopher
    Feb 17, 2021 at 5:18 pm

    As long as students like the MSA student senate member can get away with their false narratives all while winning fake internet points for their stilted stories I think we only see further demonization of those dressed in blue. Meanwhile, criminality goes largely unaddressed because it is racist to describe what the perp looks like, nowadays. When did the students lose their collective minds to this crap. Also, most students hail from rural and suburban locales. Hey kids, ever wonder why your parents moved so far away from the core of the city. I’ll give you a hint, it’s called “White Flight.”

  • John Enger
    Feb 17, 2021 at 2:03 pm

    The problem with “fear” of being shot by a UMPD Officer cannot be proved by the history of the agency…then again, history means nothing in a culture based upon emotions and knee jerk reactions towards that fear. FEAR can be a LIAR! Fear can be a symptom of a pathology within the person or institution itself based upon lies to serve its own purposes…BLINDNESS to TRUTH is a PATHETIC social illness we now face. Those seeking to dismantle the UMPD are worshipping a system of lies based upon baseless facts. Lists of demands without a FOUNDATION OF TRUTH is irrational at best and when place under the microscope is found wanting.

  • A Gopher
    Feb 17, 2021 at 1:09 pm

    The same spoiled brats that claim UMPD is on the verge of shooting them because they are “brown” are the same idiots who will call 9-1-1 when they are mugged. It’s en vogue to blame all police for the actions of one man. These children have never worked a day in their pathetic lives and that’s why they don’t respect what real working people go through. The struggle, the sacrifice. And no, it’s not always perfect and sometimes an individual or an agency needs to be reviewed. But, painting everything with such a broad brush with no subtlety or grasp of the details is what social media and our failed public primary schools have left us with: a den of shrieking children ever yearning to be the victim, always searching for the next phony outrage without examining their own hypocritical actions.

  • John Enger
    Feb 17, 2021 at 12:23 am

    I have been following from a distance the concerns that some students, faculty and staff may have regarding the UMPD and the review internally by the University Administration….and I’m not surprised by its findings from what I have been able to ascertain from what has been publicly published. Reviews of this nature are not new to the UMPD, nor to any police agency in this country. Such reviews are done for many reasons and during times of civil and political unrest those often in the front lines are are in the spotlight to have those with grievances, real or imagined, to have their hearing. The hearing has taken place and the findings published and some corrective measures will always be made in a review….not all corrective measures are bad! But what must be considered in any review is why it was done in the first place. That’s the real question for the University Community…what did the UMPD do in violation of civil or criminal law, policy or human rights? Apparently, nothing! The public record shows an outstanding Police Department with an impeccable record of serving the community and with some of the best trained and educated officers in the state.

    I know a little bit about the UMPD…I served 22 years in that agency. It had two reviews in my tenure there and each time the results have been the same…outstanding and professional men and women serving the University of Minnesota. I served with some of the best and put my life in jeopardy on several occasions along with the men and women I served with.

    Officers working within a University setting work under a much more difficult framework. Community policing is paramount, but yet they must serve with the same training and skill as any other police department in this country…that includes being armed properly and equipped to handle any type of incident that may arise on a major university campus. To disarm a trained and licensed police officer WOULD BE GROSS NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA AGAINST ITS OFFICERS AND THE STUDENT, STAFF AND FACULTY THEY SERVE. A long department history PROVES the outstanding service given to the University and the surrounding community.

    University policing is a complicated model of law enforcement. Most city police officers would not fit the mold of a good University Police Officer. Jurisdictional issues have always been an undercurrent so called concern. This isn’t a new concern in University Policing. Major University Police Departments all over the country deal with property being spread out within the city or county they patrol and having multijurisdictional arrest powers are necessary….to be expected with campus buildings, fraternities, sororities and sports facilities. Part of doing the business of protecting people and property of the University. The University of Central Florida is just one example that mirrors the UMPD!

    The UMPD is not Minneapolis PD, they are unique in and of themselves…yet, there is a duel responsibility to assist each other in its defined field of operations on any given shift when and where needed. What has clearly happened is that the emotional embers of anger towards one agency outside of the University system has landed on the UMPD and thus being highjacked and tossed into the furnace to burn with not only that agency because they work alongside of them. The UMPD stands as its own department with integrity and honor and the community should see them for who they are….HEROES!

    The review speaks for itself. The UMPD should never be unarmed or abolished, but used as an example to what a Police Department of EXCELLENCE is.

    I challenge you to do your homework and take a look at the true history of the members who have served and protected lives and property over many decades.

    God BLESS the UMPD….proud to have served the community and to have lead and trained many over the years.

    Lieutenant John Enger (Retired)

  • sbacarnes
    Feb 15, 2021 at 2:57 pm

    May I suggest that the person who said, “She said she sees the review as proof the University is not listening to students, who have been advocating for the abolition of UMPD.” to define “students.” For instance, just for fun, how many of the 40+ thousand have asked for the abolition of the UMPD? I’m confident that I will get much negative pushback from that, but I’d be curious. Also, I keep seeing demands that the police no longer carry guns. I’d also be interested to know how many times a UMPD officer has discharged their gun while on duty in the last, 5, 10, 20 years. Anyhow, just a few “facts” that I think might be helpful.

    From a recently retired staff member who started at the U in 1981.

  • A Gopher
    Feb 15, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    It’s very en vogue to demonize the police to excess, right now. You may have heard of the student who made up a story about racist police seconds away from gunning him down… only for the actual video to be released of a cordial and quick interaction. Yet, this student will face zero consequences for his lies whilst if one of the faculty or staff is even accused of something the students cancel them! We have raised a raving batch of hypocrites who want to cancel everyone except their own spoiled, entitled, bratty behavior. Glad you got out in time!