(WORT)–For students and faculty who walked out of class on April 21st, the arrest of graduating senior King Shabazz during his Black Visual Art class one week earlier was just the latest example of a university system that has its priorities backwards.
Michael Davis, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an organizer with Freedom Inc., says that students, faculty, and staff need more power, not only to hold campus police officers accountable, but also to bring policing priorities in line with those of the campus community.
“We just want to be part of the decision making processes in terms of hiring, firing, and setting the priorities of the UWPD,” Davis says. “We’re not addressing the white supremacy, the institutional racism on campus. We’re more focused on something that was spray-painted on a wall.”
In a statement posted the day of the campus walk-out, Chancellor Rebecca Blank said that although she sympathized with students’ frustration over campus climate, the university had taken “appropriate steps to respond to the community’s concerns” over police misconduct, citing UWPD’s release of body cam footage and its promise to review departmental protocol.
UWPD spokesperson Marc Lovicott says no written policies were violated in the arrest of King Shabazz, but that an internal review of best practices is underway.
“We’re reviewing our practices to ensure that everyone’s on the same page,” Lovicott says.
He says officers in the field have ample supervision, and that complaints against officers are handled transparently by the department.
In 2015, two complaints were filed against officers. The two sentence summary states that one was dismissed, and the other resulted in a one-week suspension.
Jason Lee, Outreach Programs Manager with the WISCAPE higher ed policy center at UW-Madison, says campus police departments nationwide have become more and more like their municipal counterparts.
But while demands for greater oversight of municipal police have increased, most campus police continue to report to a single administrator, Lee says.
“It’s striking that in a time when municipal police departments are coming under more scrutiny… that campus police appear to have even less oversight.”
Lee adds that while many other facets of the university’s operations are overseen by shared governance committees made of faculty, students, and staff, there is no such mechanism for input and oversight over the UWPD.
“When it comes to departments that have the legal authority to arrest and carry sidearms on campus, these seem like absolutely reasonable and necessary questions to be posing to campus officials,” Lee says.
But Michael Davis says Chancellor Blank told graduate students of color during a meeting Tuesday that she would not entertain the demand for community control over UWPD.
“My understanding is that she doesn’t believe that students, faculty, and staff are capable to operationalize community control since we’re not police professionals,” Davis says.
In her April 21st blog post, Blank responded to student demands saying, “Embedded in the student demands are requests for actions that I do not believe are reasonable, or even lawful, for me to take.”
Greg Bump, a spokesperson for the university, said Wednesday that the administration had no additional comment, but cited Wisconsin Statute 36.11 as the legal basis for the Chancellor’s position.
That statute states in part that the Board of Regents may employ police under the supervision and control of the chancellor, who “may call for aid from such persons as is deemed necessary.”