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University of Oregon President Schill recently declared his intent to increase the size of the UOPD. One might wonder if Schill comprehends the past seven months of protests against the use of policing as the response to every social ill. Schill's response continues a long, dishonorable tradition that has resulted in the United States caging nearly 25% of the world's known prisoners despite having less than 5% of the world's population, according to reporting by the Washington Post. There are well over 1 million law enforcement officers in this country, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics data, or around one for every 343 people, but the targets of this nation's police and prisons are overwhelmingly Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities, the poor, the unhoused and the mentally ill. The U.S. ruling class, in which Schill has planted himself, are not the targets of this police state and fail to recognize this issue as the humanitarian disaster it is for many in the UO community.
KVAL reports that the UO will eliminate seven currently vacant officer positions and add nine new ones. Schill's shell game offers the illusion of a reduction in armed patrol officers, but as this campus has already seen, it is far easier to arm existing officers than it is to disarm them. All it would take is a memo from Chief Carmichael to Vice President Jamie Moffit for these nine new positions to convert to armed, sworn officers. Why? Because Schill allows UOPD to decide for itself how oversight is conducted and what reforms, if any, are needed. The appropriate response to calls for an end to over-policing is a reduction — not an increase — in the size of the UOPD. Schill's decision to double down on the presence of an armed university police force is offensive to BIPOC students, faculty, staff, community members, their allies and common decency.
Predictably, Schill fear-mongers to justify an armed security force that reports to him rather than to students, voters, community members or the government. There is crime at the UO. Little of it is violent, and what little violent crime there is does not warrant an armed force the size of UOPD. The UO Police Department's own reports show more use-of-force incidents by UOPD than actual violent crime. In 2015, for example, six UOPD officers used force against 21 suspects, only four of whom were armed (each with a pocket knife). None of the suspects attempted to use a weapon.
Raising the specter of a mass shooter has been a go-to for law-and-order campus administrators. This issue has been studied exhaustively and almost always results in the same clear and consistent recommendations. More guns and more police officers are not the answer. Instead, better social and mental health support for students (especially graduate and professional students) and better training for faculty and staff to recognize and deal with at-risk students are effective alternatives. Resoundingly, there is no evidence that a police presence on campus — armed or unarmed — will reduce the risks posed by potential mass shooters. Schill persists in telling us that hiring more diverse officers will solve the problems endemic to U.S. policing, but an abundance of scholarship says otherwise. The NYPD and LAPD are among the most racially and ethnically diverse in the country, yet their reputations for violence and bigotry are notorious. Another of Schill's talking points is that special training will fix the problem. However, their training leads UO officers to believe they need to carry firearms with them to speak in a class or attend a student club's film screening. Now Schill says he will hire a consultant to lead an "inclusive process" toward setting up a new review board and other changes. We have seen this play out before. When the UO pleaded with the state legislature in 2011 to establish a sworn police force, it also promised "inclusive" discussions. Then as now, the UO instead ignored overwhelming sentiment from the student body and the faculty and moved forward with its plans.
UO's spending priorities defy logic. It gives its university president close to $1 million in total annual compensation (including bonuses and other benefits). Yet, enrollment is falling. Employees are being laid off and threatened with pay cuts. The university raised tuition in 2019 and is nearing a third consecutive year of multimillion-dollar budget cuts. Students are working multiple jobs and drowning in debt. The UO has been trying hard to limit pay raises and benefits for unionized employees, but it seems to always have more money for more police.
Each and every concern about an armed campus police force raised by UO students in 2011 remains valid today. Each and every concern raised by the people of Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 remains valid today. Each and every concern raised by protesters everywhere across this country in 2020 remains valid today. In response to these concerns, Schill wants to expand the size of the UOPD and lavish money on police consultants to add further window dressing to a broken system. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Perhaps Schill doesn't know that he is on the wrong side of that arc. We want to reduce the size of the UOPD, to disarm it and, ultimately, to dismantle it to make room for alternatives that effectively address the problems of our society: poverty, houselessness, addiction, mental illness, racism, bigotry and violence. We demand better and more sustainable solutions than those we are being offered. Feeding ever more money into a broken system is obscene. It doesn't have to be this way.
Michael Hames-García is Professor of Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies at the University of Oregon. His current research focuses on community oversight of law enforcement in Eugene, Los Angeles and British Columbia.
Disarm UO is a student- and community-led coalition to disarm, defund and dismantle the University of Oregon Police Department.