As part of the broader conversation that is being had about the treatment of non-privileged groups, University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank was presented by UW BIPOC leaders, such as those from the Wisconsin Black Student Union, with 10 demands. As of this article, Blank has rejected two of the demands — removing the Abraham Lincoln statue on Bascom Hill and defunding and abolishing the University of Wisconsin Police Department.
The demand that Blank rejected that I will focus on is the demand to defund and abolish UWPD. UWPD had a budget of $12 million during the 2017 to 2018 school year. This represents about 0.4% of the university’s total budget for the year. This isn’t a huge percentage of the budget, but $12 million is a meaningful amount of money.
The Associated Students of Madison passed a vote of no confidence in UWPD Sept. 29. ASM wants to disband UWPD. But, Blank is right in that with 65,000 students on campus, there should be a campus police force. But that does not mean that the police system we have at UW now is the system that we need.
UWPD has one of the greatest powers that one can have — the ability to use lethal force. Because UWPD has this power, there should be greater oversight than there currently is. There are many reasonable ways to oversee UWPD in a manner that does not inhibit the police from being able to do their jobs while keeping the police accountable.
We should establish a Student Safety Committee that is made up of an accurate representation of the student population, which means that it should be stratified between undergraduate and graduate students, by race, by gender and other factors of identity that affect a student’s experience on campus. Governing bodies work best when they are representative of their constituencies.
This committee should be given complete and total access to the police department and all information within it. Also, this committee should be required to approve the use of any of the equipment listed on the specialized equipment list prior to deployment.
There should also be a greater representation of students on the UWPD Advisory Council. Like the Student Safety Committee, the Advisory Council should be representative of the constituents of UWPD. That means more seats for BIPOC students and other minorities.
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It is better to have advisory councils that are well-represented when it comes to organizations that have the authority to use lethal force. The Advisory Council also needs to have more authority. They need to have the equivalent of subpoena authority for access to the best information so they can provide the best possible feedback on police operations.
Beyond greater oversight, there should also be a change in tactics. One of the biggest changes in tactics that should occur is in regard to the use of force. UWPD policy is to use deadly force when someone’s life is at stake. This is reasonable, but that still leads to a lot of room for discretion.
Some reasonable changes to the policy, which are more like additions, should be things like banning police from being able to shoot at moving cars. UWPD should follow the 8 Can’t Wait policies on force, such as banning chokeholds and strangleholds, requiring at least three warnings before shooting — or even just before using force in general — and to hold all officers at the scene of an excessive force incident liable for that force.
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This list of proposals is reasonable. These proposals would go a long way to solving many of the issues that exist with UWPD at this time. Obviously, this doesn’t solve every issue. There are still legitimate problems that are not discussed here. But, these are things I think Blank would be far more willing to implement and support.
Jared Loiben ([email protected]) is a first-year law student at UW-Madison.