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UWM Should Reject Calls to Disband Campus Police

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Jessica McBride is a senior journalism lecturer at UW-Milwaukee

I am an employee at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and I feel safer with the UW-Milwaukee Police Department remaining on campus.

Recently, a group of students demanded that the chancellor disarm and disband the campus police.  They also want the chancellor to cancel contracts with the Milwaukee Police Department for support at events and to end the agreement between the University of Wisconsin System and the Police Training Institute. They want to entrust campus safety to “unarmed mediation” and intervention teams, according to an article by WISN-TV.

It’s the students’ right to make these demands in a free country, and good for them for being active in civic life. However, UWM (and the UW System) should soundly reject these demands. They are not logically sound and would make the campus unsafe. They would do a serious disservice to victims.

As for the Police Training Institute, why would we want less training of police? The answer to concerns about policing should be more and better training, not fewer police. The demands start from the premise that there’s something dangerous or bad about armed police on campus, but there’s no evidence that the UWM police have misused that authority.

The UWM police are needed. They handle serious cases on campus. Review the latest police crime blotter. They’ve handled batteries, burglaries, criminal trespassing, drug cases, bail jumping, OWI, restraining order violation, theft, sexual assault, and more. Those are not the kinds of offenses that “unarmed mediators” can handle. They’re cases that require the intervention of police to protect the campus and the people on it. I’ve found Chief LeMire and his officers to be open and helpful. They make me feel safer.

In 2018, the campus police handled 25 cases of stalking, domestic violence, and dating violence – serious issues that require law enforcement. They dealt with 40 sex offenses. The victims of sex offenses need trained law enforcement who can conduct proper investigations that will hold up in court, not trained mediation. They also handled arson cases.

Armed police are also preventative. Have people forgotten the horrors of Virginia Tech? Thirty-two people lost their lives in that campus massacre. How would unarmed mediation teams deal with an active shooter? People can say, well, that will probably never happen here. However, I feel safer knowing that, if something bad did occur, armed police are close by.

UWM police hold active shooter and other personal safety training and classes on campus. They even conduct CPR training. Their presence prevents crimes. They do a lot more than simply investigate cases.

In one recent year, UWM Police Department conducted 24 active shooter, 7 self-defense, and 6 CPR/AED classes, according to the 2019 campus security report. That same year, they offered 16 sessions of “Classroom and Campus Safety” for faculty and instructors with the Dean of Students.

UWM police also work with the Neighborhood Housing Office on “security concerns related to rental units, commuting concerns for drivers, bikers, bus riders, and walkers, and health concerns related to behavior off campus.”

What else do the campus police do? “We provide UWM campus patrol and safety, facility security, and personal safety escorts and advice,” their website says.

The campus police also provide vehicle assistance and lost-and-found services.

They’re there when faculty or students have safety concerns. Their presence deters crime in surrounding neighborhoods from spilling into the campus. Homicide rates and other crimes are spiking in the city at large. It’s a dangerous time to talk about removing protectors from campus. Their relationship with the campus community is not antagonistic; it’s collaborative.

I think campus is generally safe, but I can recall incidents where campus police were helpful and needed. In one recent case, a student journalist went to the union parking garage only to encounter a man literally driving off with and stealing his car! He spoke to the media about it.

They also serve as a deterrent. How would criminals act if they knew the campus had no police protection? Would they target it more? Also, Milwaukee police are stretched thin already due to rising crimes off campus, so response times for serious offenses would spike if UWM didn’t have its own force.

I hope the chancellor doesn’t disband the campus police department. There’s been no evidence presented to show it’s warranted, and there’s ample concern that doing so would leave faculty and students unprotected in a time of rising violent crime.

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