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Gabel talks UMPD’s involvement in policing Daunte Wright protests

The University president also discussed the possibility of renaming campus buildings in an interview with the Minnesota Daily.
Image by Abbey Machtig
President Joan Gabel poses for a portrait over Zoom on Thursday, Oct. 15.

University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel discussed the recent police killing of Daunte Wright and responded to concerns about the campus police department’s involvement in the following protests in a virtual interview with the Minnesota Daily Wednesday.

Gabel also said the University’s Board of Regents would be revisiting conversations around renaming campus buildings this summer and discussed the possibility of requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the fall semester.

University of Minnesota Police Department officers were present in Brooklyn Center following the police shooting and killing of Daunte Wright. Students, including the Minnesota Student Association, have voiced concerns about the University’s involvement, as you announced last year that the University would no longer contract with the Minneapolis Police Department aside from joint patrols and investigations that directly enhance the safety of [the University] community.” What is your response to these concerns? Does UMPD’s involvement with policing the recent protests contradict your announcement from last year?

We think there is a misunderstanding because what we did last year was cancel some of our services with MPD. The joint command that brought us to Brooklyn Center does not include MPD; they are not members. This work that we do in partnership with other agencies is a reflection of the fact that law enforcement is a community activity, and that doesn’t mean the community always likes it or agrees with it, and we are committed to evolving. In immediate crisis circumstances, it’s very common for one individual agency to need assistance from other agencies. We partner in order to make sure that we would have help when we need it, and that means we need to provide help when others need it. But my promise, and my continuing promise, is related to the Minneapolis Police Department, and we have kept that promise.

Will the University stop responding to these types of requests in the future?

We have to think about what we would do in order to make sure we could respond to a crisis. Because of this advocacy, we’re doing a review right now to think about what alternatives we have. If there’s a viable way for us to assure our ability to engage in crisis response, then we would do it. But we’re going to do what we need to do to be prepared for a crisis and then be transparent about that.

How is the process of adopting the recommendations from Dr. Cedric Alexander’s safety report progressing?

We’re in the process of composing the M Safe Implementation Team that Dr. Alexander recommended; we’ve identified the chairs. We’re also working with the Senate on the Campus Safety Committee that the Senate itself decided to do and thinking about how those two groups, the implementation group and then the Campus Safety Committee, work together. That’s students, faculty and staff advising on what of the recommendations we ultimately implement. The members of that committee are also dealing with the effects of the Daunte Wright killing and other social questions that we have right now, so that may affect some of the pacing, faster and slower.

Several colleges and universities around the country, like Brown and Rutgers University, have announced that they will require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the fall semester. Is the University considering this?

In the state of Minnesota, our law is different than in some of the states where the universities have already made this announcement. For us, while the vaccine is still under emergency use authorization, we would not make it mandatory. If and when the vaccine receives full [Food and Drug Administration] approval, then we would look at the legal environment. But at this point, there’s no plan to make it mandatory because it is not allowed. Were those circumstances to change, then we would do the review and think about what that means for our campus.

Conversations around renaming campus buildings due to the histories of the people they were named after have started to reemerge around the University community. In addition to other activism from students, the student representatives to the board highlighted renaming buildings as a priority for the board in their report last month. Why do you think larger conversations around this topic have not continued among administration?

We got right to work on that when I arrived [at the University], and we actually had been consulting widely. The thing that actually caused us to hit the pause button was not the pandemic: It was George Floyd’s death. We were ready to go bringing [a policy] forward, but that felt fundamentally insensitive. There was an awareness that the circumstances of his death and the calls for action afterward highlighted for me that made me really want to think this through. Was this the right approach? Was this renaming policy a reflection of everything that we want to do around all of the questions that relate to who we are and how we honor them? I wasn’t sure that was the case.

I hit a pause button so that I could think that through and so others who work on this, not just me, could think that through. We’ve been changing what we originally proposed, and now it’s almost ready to be discussed publicly. We think the timing is that that will be ready for discussion at the summer board retreat.

What is the process of developing a renaming policy like?

We talked to stakeholder groups and governance leadership, so students, faculty and staff. We talked to, in this case, community stakeholders because there are a lot of people who are impacted and affected by this question. We did a lot of research on what other campuses were doing — and not just what they did but also what they chose not to do. There was a lot to inform us in both of those sides of the decision. And we were at the point of writing a proposal when George Floyd was killed, so that’s when we paused.

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  • Dennis Hejhal
    Apr 16, 2021 at 1:32 pm

    For readers not on the bulk email list for messages from President
    Gabel, there is now an “FAQ” page about recent UMPD off-campus
    activities. To see it, simply go to (in all lower case letters!):

    SAFE-CAMPUS.UMN.EDU slash umpd-campus-RESPONSE-faq .

    This is a positive step in transparency; indeed, per the FAQ, “this transparency is required for trust to grow.” One hopes that it continues. (The site encourages any and all additional questions. I submitted a few.)

    Two further points.

    The important Cedric Alexander Report is cited in the FAQ. In looking at it, I noted that, under cooperation recommendations, in Pillar 3 (see point 3.1), reference is made only to police departments serving areas *contiguous* to the university campus proper. Perhaps there was a reason for this limitation.

    In an earlier comment (4/12 re: MSA), I mentioned that ‘can’ and ‘should’ are two very different concepts. As a major university, UM has a national profile. One wonders if leadership here can cite any other major universities in the USA having such countywide police pacts. It would be enlightening to know which, and how many there are.

  • Dennis Hejhal
    Apr 16, 2021 at 12:34 am

    {this message was a repeat; the http reference got flagged.}

  • A Gopher
    Apr 15, 2021 at 4:03 pm

    Thank you for your balanced and finely nuanced posting. I hope the students take what you’ve said and at least opened their eyes a bit to the actual reality before them instead of the woke narrative that tends to dominate.

  • praiseinterracialmarriages
    Apr 15, 2021 at 3:25 pm

    The University of Minnesota Police Department has my blessings in serving in the community to assist other law enforcement agencies in the effort to respond to the possibility of violence, damage and destruction of property.

    I am a past student senator. I am a victim of several crimes against my person. UMPD was hostile to my needs and desires when I was in school between the years 1986 to 1996.

    Those students in the MSA who voice their disagreement against law enforcement agencies assisting one another have not owned property or had crimes against them. They are making gut-reaction responses and jumping onto naively led bandwagons without a thorough understanding that there were 697,195 police officers serving in the United States in 2019, and the greater majority of those officers serve peacefully and with integrity.

    The emotional reaction against all police officers which we see in this community and around the nation is myopic and not based on credible regard for the majority of police officers.

    If members of the MSA, who are merely students, like people who get into politics in the general community are neighbors and not necessarily geniuses or of high integrity and sound conduct, who believe that they have something to offer the community. Some MSA members are highly credible and mature. However, in my experience with student bodies, most are not emotionally or intellectually advanced or credible. I quit my position as a student senator, realizing that most of my colleagues had over-defined egos and were severely lacking in common sense. I come from a family which has been closely associated with the families of two Minnesota-born U.S. vice presidents, and which has distinguished itself through professionalism, wisdom, and public service.

    I encourage each of you to step back and ask yourselves to research the actual number of innocent lives which have been lost due to malicious behavior of malicious and incompetent individuals in uniform, over the greater service of officers who assist and find lost children and vulnerable adults, who care for rape victims and victims of assault, who put their lives on the line without knowing if they will come home alive after a shift, who track down vehicles which have been stolen, or who investigate financial crimes, and etcetera.

    The naivete and emotionalism which I see at play is common for people of college age and even older. Few people put time into their emotional and social development, and continue to advance their intellectual and professional development, often enough to the detriment of other people.

    It is time to take a step back from the emotional whims which so-called student leaders are advancing as their desire for policy and to look at the greater harm which can come to a community without the presence of police offers whose presence and activity is aimed at deterring violent crime and damage, destruction, and loss of property by both casual criminals who loot and act in a hostile manner, a well as organized criminals who place themselves in the epicenter of protests and disrupt peaceful assemblies by the majority of protestors.

    While an acquaintance of mine lost an eye due to a rubber bullet shot in his direction last May 31, 2020 at a peaceful protest in Minneapolis, I continue to support the presence of police officers at protests and potential riot and destruction events. Instead of immaturely voicing my disgruntlement with all police officers, I get to know my community leaders and make recommendations on what activities by police officers should be reigned in, such as the end of the use of rubber bullets.

    Police officers and agencies are tools of communities to deter certain activities and investigate and assist in the resolution of crimes. While some officers are malicious and incompetent, as was, apparently, the involvement of the four officers leading to the end of George Floyd’s life, as well as to the end of Daunte Wright’s life, and several other lives, most officers are not malicious. I have known and have been related to several local and federal law enforcement officers, FBI Special Agents, and U.S. Marshals in my lifetime. I have seen their care for our community. The majority of people who are hostile to officers, Special Agents, and Marshals have no personal connection to that aggregate of people and are responding to people who want to see change in our community (which I also hope to see), but who are both emotionally, socially, intellectually, and politically removed from that necessary element of our society, and who are aggressive and ignorant of the many who serve well, honestly, and peacefully.

    During my time at the University of Minnesota, I personally had problems with both the malfeasance and nonfeasance of several officers who opined that because I had a mental health diagnosis (depression, anxiety, and PTSD) I was not fit to make clear judgments about people who were stalking, harassing, and beating me over a two year period. Yet, I have met officers and law enforcement executives who did take my side (too late to save my GPA and allow me the grades to get into law school, and also to receive my masters of public affairs, and MBA, with a desire to serve our U.S. diplomatic corps). I use a balanced and logical view of people and policies in our society, and do not offensively assail entire aggregates of a political, professional, or ethnic, gender, racial or disability communities with a biased and hostile regard. I look at individuals, not aggregates, to base my judgments about what is happening in society.

    To conclude, I support the efforts of UMPD and other law enforcement agencies to come to the aid of other communities to assist in controlling, deterring and responding to the ill-, violent-, and destructive-behavior of malicious actors in our community. For those who do not want to be on the receiving end of violence against themselves, the option is to stay away from malicious actors and to leave the scene of crimes when they do not care to be associated with crimes. It is also incumbent among mature people (or those who care to develop maturity), to establish thoughtful relationships with members of all political parties, and to avoid using hostile and boorish epithets and vulgarity in their effort to effect change. The period in which most college student are in school is a period of exploration and intense personal development. For those who have an inkling of maturity, they realize that they are not fully mature, nor are those in even their later years. Life is a dance: Learning how and where to place your feet is part of the experience. Please grow and do not make fools of yourselves or lead to greater suffering.

    Barry N. Peterson
    College of Liberal Arts, Class of 1996
    Minneapolis, Minnesota – USA