On August 23, the Radical Students’ Union, Black Student Association, Latino Student Association and Jewish Student Association published a joint letter calling for changes to the UMW Campus Police department. The letter came in light of the involvement of the UMW Police Department in the Fredericksburg protests from May 31 to June 2.
The letter’s authors called for UMW to limit the assistance that campus police can offer other police departments through mutual aid agreements. A mutual aid agreement led five UMW police officers to work under the direction of the Fredericksburg Police Department during the late May and early June protests in downtown Fredericksburg, where police officers used tear gas against protesters.
Two separate groups, the UMW Campus Advisory Panel and the outside firm Police Executive Research Forum hired by the Fredericksburg City Council, are still investigating the events of the protests and UMW PD involvement.
The letter also demands an independent and anonymous system to report police misconduct advertised throughout the campus. Currently, a community member who wants to make a complaint or a commendation must use the form on the Police and Public Safety page, which requires them to share their full name and email.
The committee, composed of all four participating clubs, chooses to refer to itself collectively as the Defunding Committee in order to not privilege any individuals over the whole when making statements or decisions. Members began work on the letter in a FaceTime call on June 12, but developed the ideas behind it long before.
“We developed our demands by identifying problems we see on campus, things that directly affect our communities in an oppressive manner, and acknowledg[ing] how much of a role campus policing and the institution of policing play in that,” said the Defunding Committee in a statement. “As more and more people got on board with our effort, our demands were refined and continue to be reviewed and added to.”
The committee also cites the work of other student activists at the University of Minnesota and Virginia Commonwealth University as influences.
The organizations’ other demands include minimization of cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, the implementation of International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators standards, extensive bias and anti-racist training, improved procedures for disseminating relevant safety information to the student body, including the hiring of a communications officer, and the movement of money from the campus police department budget into other departments.
UMW Police Chief Michael Hall is quick to point out that all of his officers have certifications in Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and trauma informed investigation for cases of sexual assault.
“I’d put my training up against anybody’s. What we mandate our officers to go through is above and beyond the culture and diversity training,” said Hall. “All my officers receive additional training that is not mandated.”
Hall also referred to the accreditation from the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission (VLEPSC) that the UMW Police Department received in 2018. UMW was the 100th police agency in Virginia to earn this honor, which less than one-third of agencies in the commonwealth possess.
Hall cited instances in the past where UMW PD attempted to reach out to different parts of the UMW community.
“We meet with the leaders of the NAACP, of the Multicultural Center, asking ‘What should I do? What can we do to support you?’” said Hall.
The Defunding Committee is also encouraging campus involvement in their mission. “We welcome any other clubs and organizations to reach out to us and get involved. We want everyone to have a seat at the table, because the trespasses of policing affect us all,” said the Defunding Committee. “Defund UMW Police is just getting started, and we’re not going anywhere.”
As of this article’s publication, the letter has several hundred signatures, which the writers expect to increase as the semester continues. The Defunding Committee hopes that the University will implement their suggested changes by 2022.