Episode 78: Dr. Alexander’s Report

In this episode, we dive into Dr. Cedric Alexander’s Report to Strengthen UMPD Alignment with UMN Expectations. We speak with student groups about their meetings with Dr. Alexander, what they discussed, and what made it into the report. We also look at what issues the recommendations did not address and how students envision community-based influence.

Episode+78%3A+Dr.+Alexander%E2%80%99s+Report

Ava Kian, Yoko Vue, and Hana Ikramuddin

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INTRO MUSIC

AVA KIAN: Hi everyone, I’m Ava Kian. 

HANA IKRAMUDDIN: I’m Hana Ikramuddin, a campus administration reporter.

YOKO VUE: I’m Yoko Vue. And you’re listening to “In the Know,” a podcast by the Minnesota Daily.

KIAN: In the fall, we spoke with Dr. Cedric L. Alexander, who had just begun conducting a public safety review for the University. Dr. Alexander focused on the community’s perceptions of the University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD), as well as how safe people feel on campus. His findings were released in a report last month. Some of his suggestions will be implemented immediately. Others won’t get solidified that quickly; they’ll need to go through a committee of faculty, staff and students tasked with looking over his recommendations further. 

VUE: The report’s recommendations fall into eight categories, touching on topics like strengthening trust and legitimacy, engaging the University community in UMPD Training, and using equipment and technology, among others. 

IKRAMUDDIN: Some of the recommendations that will be immediately implemented include equipping UMPD officers with body cameras, purchasing and distributing a campus safety app, and working with Twin Cities mayors on public safety issues. 

KIAN: Back in September, students we spoke with were skeptical of the review and its potential impact, as there seemed to be little communication about its implementation.  Many student activists disapproved of an external review, and instead called for community control. Now that the finished report is public, some students say that the review ignored the main call for a fundamental restructuring of UMPD and systemic change. 

IKRAMUDDIN: I spoke with Leah Spellman, a third-year graduate student who says the review did not address the core issues with UMPD. 

LEAH SPELLMAN: I guess they’re kind of trying, but I feel like there’s still an undertone of not truly understanding the issues that we have not just with UMPD but with police. 

I think my issue is like all of the attempts that they’re going to try to like build community and like having all of these community events, and they have like that all of a sudden. They wanna have listening sessions and like want to try to have open up honest conversations and at the end of the day it’s like unless, you know, police and UMPD and everyone involved like truly deeply understand what we’re saying when we say it to them like I don’t really care what kind of like good PR they’re going to try and do to like build community because to me it just seems like PR moves instead of like actually wanting to structurally change

IKRAMUDDIN: I also had a chance to speak with the president of the Black Student Union (BSU), Samiat Ajibola, who told me that the review does not address what BSU wanted to see – the defunding of University police. 

SAMIAT AJIBOLA: I think that anytime a University organization talks about reforming something specifically when it’s police reform, always means giving them more money, and people think that throwing money at something can fix the situation when in reality it just gives them more power. And personally, I believe that the only solution is defunding, and I stand by that completely.

IKRAMUDDIN: Samiat says the review slowed down student efforts toward police reform on campus. In our conversation, she said that when the Black Student Union attempted to meet with UMPD this fall, President Gabel’s office refused because they thought a meeting with Dr. Alexander would be more productive.

AJIBOLA: His report didn’t come out till like this month. So that’s months and months of us just sitting and waiting around, see what he’ll do, and I think once we got that report I mean, was not what any of us were hoping for. Now it’s like, we have to start again. And we don’t have the same momentum that we did before. And that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen, but it is going to be more of a fight.

I’m not gonna say that people haven’t been advocating because there are groups like the Students for a Democratic Society who have been consistently advocating for UMPD reform. However, I believe that when it comes to a lot of students and faculty. They were kind of sitting and waiting to see if Dr. Alexander would come through you know if he would say something that could change the tide, that could help us, and especially within a University every time we want to talk about police reform directly put us to Dr. Alexander said, ‘Let’s wait for this report.’ Like, we have things in motion. It didn’t allow for any change to happen, it didn’t allow for any meetings to take place. It didn’t happen for any of the information-Gathering that needed to occur during this time period to be had. Instead, it was a lot of just sitting around and waiting for a miracle almost.

IKRAMUDDIN: The Black Student Union and Students for a Democratic Society have been pushing to defund and create community control of the University of Minnesota’s police department. When I spoke to her, Samiat was also skeptical of giving more resources to UMPD.

AJIBOLA:  The only thing is our school believes that by equipping UMPD with more materials or hiring more staff or whatever like that will make things better. But if there’s a culture of not supporting students, and there’s a culture of having a lack of communication, then, no matter how many people you hire that culture will never change. And you don’t need money to fix culture, you need patience, time and you need people who are willing to hold UMPD accountable, and I believe this university has people who are willing, it’s just the lack of resources to group them together.

VUE: Dr. Alexander recommended increasing the number of UMPD officers on campus. He spoke on this while presenting the report at the Board of Regents meeting last Friday. 

ALEXANDER [AT THE BOARD OF REGENTS MEETING]: You have a chief who want[s] to provide the very best, the very best public safety that he can for his campus and he indicated he needs more personnel he needs more technology and he does and I support that and that’s clearly outlined here in this report.  

VUE: Dr. Alexander recommended demilitarization in pillar six of his report which stated to “eliminate all military-grade weapons, vehicles, ammunition, tear gas, except under certain conditions that will be determined through this review process.” However, at the Board of Regents meeting, he addressed the need for engagement with the community about police equipment and the importance of it.

ALEXANDER [AT THE BOARD OF REGENTS MEETING]: So in the minds, the perceptions of many people is that the police are becoming militarized. How do we demilitarize? One thing that I would strongly suggest… is that the police department, your police departments have an opportunity to sit with that community there on that campus and explain the importance of why this equipment is important under what circumstances the training that goes along with it and the policies that go along with it.

KIAN: I spoke with Amy Ma, the president of the Minnesota Student Association (MSA). She says she was upset to see additional funds allocated towards officers, body cams and other resources. 

AMY MA:  After this summer, there was so much immediate call for change. And it took several months before the administration really acted on anything and that action was, um, bringing in someone else. In a way, it does delegitimize the lived experiences of students who have been asking for these things, particularly demilitarization has been a conversation for years now…  It took another person coming in and someone who has never even been a student on this campus to say that, yeah, maybe UMPD should be demilitarized for like, our University to truly believe that. 

KIAN: The report ignores the fact that students have expressed some of these issues and solutions long before the University decided to do a review, Amy said. 

MA: I do think the report lays out some clear steps forward and conversations that still need to happen. But you know, I think if you’d asked students like, months ago, what needs to happen. Some of these things would have already been said, and some of them maybe wouldn’t. So, I do understand that that is helpful to have this really comprehensive review of UMPD, but from a student perspective, like these are people that have lived here and really experienced what it’s like to have UMPD on our campus.

KIAN: Student activists say the history of policing as an institution that has consistently targeted Black communities and other communities of color, causes greater mistrust of police among students. They also pointed out that this is not necessarily a history that University administration has reckoned with.

MA: Even now, if all of a sudden tomorrow, you know, all these things get implemented, UMPD doesn’t have any other complaints forever. The fact that like these last few months and years, decades, centuries have happened like this just like already holds so much like trauma and tension, and creates this sort of distrust based on things that have happened historically. 

KIAN: Amy says students have voiced that accountability remains an issue with UMPD. During the Board of Regents meeting, Dr. Alexander said that UMPD does an “outstanding job, which is not being perceived by a segment of the campus community.” He also shared data that shows a low amount of public complaints against UMPD, with three in 2020, in which he questioned why then there was a negative perception of UMPD among students. Part of his reasoning for the disconnect between the data and public sentiment was that students “cannot differentiate” the difference between UMPD and MPD. While Regent Kenyanya said that could account for some of it, he disagreed with Dr. Alexander’s statement. 

REGENT MIKE KENYANYA [AT BOARD OF REGENTS MEETING]: Students faculty and staff that actually interact with the officers, they can read. They’re literate, you know. I’m gonna give them a little more credit than that, to be able to read a badge, to read the car so if they’re from afar, fine. But clearly, some of these incidents are not the confusion,

People want accountability, right. That’s why the governor just said he’s going to deploy the national guard ahead of the Derek Chauvin trial because we know how people react to a lack of accountability.

KIAN: Amy says accountability remains one of the main issues for students. In his report, Dr. Alexander recommends that the University form a study group to review the current accountability structures and recommend alternatives. 

MA: One of the frustrations that I’ve heard from students as far as like accountability of UMPD goes is that right now, if you do have a complaint from UMPD, the only route that you really have is to bring it forward to UMPD, which is, you know, a conflict of interest, having any organization to hold itself accountable is difficult, that’s why MSA doesn’t hold its own elections and so forth. And so that desire to have more of a community voice and a community resolution when these issues come forward was a big part of this conversation. And it seemed like Dr. Alexander was kind of moving toward that way but didn’t necessarily lay out a structure on what needed to happen, but, clear avenues for complaints, as well as addressing community issues, feels like a really overdue step for UMPD. 

KIAN: During their meeting with Dr. Alexander, MSA brought up the University’s lack of response when Isak Aden was killed by police in Eagan, a Minnesota suburb. Aden was a University student.

MA: One particular point we brought up with Dr. Alexander was the murder of Isak Aden who was shot by Eagan police, who was a student at the University a few years back. And there was no University response to this, few students knew about this, I didn’t even know myself until May. Even with things that we’ve seen past, there was a response from president Gabel about the murder of George Floyd, but there was very little response about other protests and things that happened throughout the summer. There was very little response after the I-94 protest in which students and journalists…were arrested. And so it seems like that lack of response from the University is a response in itself and something that feels very harmful to U students, who are dealing with this. And so we talked with Dr. Alexander about that a little bit, and I don’t think it was reflected, as much as I would have liked it to. 

IKRAMUDDIN: At the Board meeting, Gabel announced the creation of the M Safe Implementation Team, a committee of faculty, staff and students who will consider and analyze Dr. Alexander’s recommendations. When talking about the implementation plan to the Board of Regents, Gabel said that not all the recommendations will necessarily be taken. 

JOAN GABEL [AT THE BOARD OF REGENTS MEETING[: Ultimately, M Safe Implementation Team will be an advisory committee, they will review Dr. Alexander’s recommendations, engage and follow up consultation as needed and gather that feedback, and then provide an action plan to Vice President Frans, Chief Clark, me and also the newly formed University Senate Campus Safety Committee that we reported to you at our last meeting. We will update you regularly on this progress and to the extent that their recommendations require Board approval, we will obviously bring them forward to you as appropriate.

KIAN: Dr. Alexander stressed the importance of transparency throughout the presentation, as one of the recommendations is for the campus community to have access to police training to create greater understanding.

VUE: Student activists say they want more community influence and conversation. They believe the University has a tremendous amount of work to do in creating a safe campus environment. The recommendations to increase UMPD officers and blue phone 911 call stations are not in line with the suggestions of some to defund the police and include more community-based influence for the future of safety on campus. 

KIAN: Still, these discussions are not yet over. Moving forward, the report will likely play a central role in how the University decides to grapple with questions of racial justice, campus safety and policing. As a committee looks over the report, some recommendations may see action, while others are left on the cutting room floor.

OUTRO MUSIC

TIFFANY BUI: In other U News: Community organizations are helping seniors living near the University get COVID-19 vaccines; a new cancer trial clinic opened inside M Health Fairview; and the University of Minnesota paid a professor over $190,000 after he resigned. The professor had previously been disciplined for sexually harassing a graduate student. That’s all for this time. See you next week.