By MADISON TURNER
On Monday, March 30, 2021, the Community Advisory Panel (CAP) completed its final report and recommendations regarding the UMW Campus Police and their involvement in the May 31 Black Lives Matter Protest in Fredericksburg. CAP concluded that, although the campus police followed policies at the time, the policies should be reviewed to determine whether their actions were in line with UMW’s ASPIRE values. The report also concluded that UMW needs mental health clinicians as first responders to mental health crises rather than armed UMW PD officers. Finally, the report recommended creating a Campus Policing Advisory Council of students, staff and UMW PD officers to facilitate further conversation between the UMW community and the police.
The report they produced is split into two parts, both covering CAP’s recommendations for UMW. The first provides a factual review of the Campus Police’s involvement in the May 31 protest and a catalog of the mutual aid agreements that were in place during the protest. The second addresses whether UMW PD’s policies align with UMW’s values.
Mental health crisis response
Restructuring mental health crisis response was a recurring topic of discussion in student listening groups. These groups were created to hear the thoughts of members of the campus community. Dr. Tevya Zukor, director of the Talley Center, agreed that “providing a mental health clinician as the primary responder to a mental health crisis is the preferable response protocol.”
Currently, armed UMW PD officers are typically the first responders to a mental health crisis, especially late at night. According to the report, when responding to a mental health crisis, “Campus Police present themselves in full uniform, carrying a lethal weapon, which may elevate the anxiety and fear of a student already in crisis…. When Campus Police provide hospital transport, a student in crisis is placed in handcuffs and transported in a marked vehicle, adding to the stigma associated with mental health challenges.”
According to the report, some of the reforms for restructuring this system include 24/7 availability of clinical staff for student support and transporting persons in unmarked cars without handcuffs to reduce the stigma associated with mental health challenges.
“I agree 100 percent with the report that there is reason for us to continue to think about how to best ensure mental health coverage and services for students 24 hours a day,” said Zukor. “Being transported in an unmarked car certainly feels far less stigmatizing and far less traumatic for a student that is already in the midst of a difficult situation, or they would not be needing to be transported to the hospital.”
Senior communication and digital studies major Alexandra Johnson shared her personal experience with the police responding to assist her.
“Personally, I have had to have a police officer come to assist me, and in my situation, it wasn’t needed,” she said. “I felt belittled in the moment, and like I was not being listened to. However, I have seen situations where police officers needed to be involved, because something detrimental could have happened had they not arrived. Again, everyone’s situation is different, mental health is not a black or white issue.”
Zukor clarified that, although there is not currently 24/7 availability of clinical staff, “I would not want it to be misconstrued that students are not able to get mental health assistance. Sometimes it does involve the police, but the police are primarily involved in crisis work after hours, primarily when there is such concern that the student must be transported. I am not aware of any time students have not been able to get a mental health assessment, even in the middle of the night.”
Last year, University President Troy Paino appointed CAP to investigate the UMW Police Department’s involvement in the May 31 Fredericksburg Black Lives Matter protest. Due to a mutual aid agreement between UMW PD and the Fredericksburg Police Department, UMW police officers were called to help Fredericksburg PD control the protest, where protesters were tear-gassed—many of which were from the UMW community.
According to the report, during an interview with CAP, Chief of Police Michael Hall and Lt. Bill Gill confirmed the information included in the incident reports. The incident reports reveal that “The UMW Officers did not use tear gas or engage in any use of force… Fredericksburg Police requested that the UMW Officers provide security for the FPD headquarters building.”
The panel also concluded that “CAP did not receive any information that contradicted the Incident Reports or Hall’s account of Campus Police involvement in the May 31 Protest.”
In an interview about the report, Hall stated, “They called for help and we responded. We were not engaged with any of the tear-gassing and the city has reached out and they’re doing a review of what they did.”
Hall expressed his hopes that the community does not judge based on their actions from the night of the protest.
“We are one of the most diverse departments on campus and we have become an accredited agency,” he said. “These are huge accomplishments, and I don’t want the community to judge one incident. The way we work with residential life and the community I don’t want to be lost in all of this because of what happened on May 31.”
The UMW Campus Police’s involvement in the protest disappointed many students and members of the University, leading them to question the Campus Police’s commitment to keeping the community safe and aligned with ASPIRE values.
More students have stepped up to share their thoughts about the Campus Police’s involvement in the protest.
“I feel like they were just doing what they felt was needed, or what they were being told to do,” said Johnson. “I feel as if with a slight review and more transparency in what their role was in the protests, they would be consistent with ASPIRE values. They need to make sure every community member feels heard, regarded and safe with every interaction.”
Another communication and digital studies major, senior Arthur Romps, said, “UMW Police have only ever been helpful to me on campus, several times they have used the golf carts to help me carry my tuba from one side of campus to the other, which was also one of my first impressions of the campus as a whole. Knowing they didn’t support the protests is disheartening, but I can’t hate them for it.”
“I think after reading the Final Report and Recommendations provided by the University, it seems as if UMW is taking care and addressing A LOT of concerns, and UMW as a whole is trying to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard to fix these issues,” said Johnson.
The report also recommended the creation of a Campus Policing Advisory Council where students, staff and UMW PD representatives will “be a bridge between the Campus Community and the Campus Police,” according to the report. This panel would implement CAP’s recommendations, “conduct community forums on policing topics affecting campus,” serve as an “independent panel to review complaints involving Campus Police” and “restructure the complaint reporting, review and investigation process.”
The full final report is available on the CAP webpage for the campus community to read and review the recommendations. Also available on the web page is a comment form where community members can comment to share their input, perspectives and feedback. This feedback will then be shared with Paino.
In a message to campus, Paino said, “This feedback will be helpful as the institution considers the report’s recommendations. My intention is to respond to this comprehensive input in early May.”