The University of California (UC) Cops Off Campus coalition is organizing a nationwide day of refusal to advocate for the dismantlement of college police on all UC and California State University (CSU) campuses. The day of refusal asks the community to not attend synchronous or asynchronous classes, meetings, or do any other forms of university-sanctioned labor.
On May 3, the UCSD chapter of the coalition will hold a protest at the Audrey Geisel University House to call for the abolition of campus police.
This protest comes at the beginning of Abolition May, a month-long series of actions dedicated to the removal of campus police. Abolition May will begin with the nationwide day of refusal on May 3 and end on May 25, the one-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd.
The coalition will demand their respective college systems to divest from campus police and instead invest and improve other viable community alternatives that keep students safe and support students’ mental health.
Saiba Varma, an assistant professor in the Anthropology department and representative of UCSD Cops Off Campus, said UCSD has had problems with campus policing in a statement to The Triton.
“There have been several incidents of students experiencing mental health crises, where, because the only possible response is calling 911, they have been arrested and criminalized,” she said.
She reported that other UCSD departments, including the Critical Gender Studies Program, Anthropology, Communication, and Ethnic Studies, are planning to stand in solidarity with the coalition and have released statements in support of divesting from the police.
In a panel hosted by CalMatters and KQED on April 21, student leaders, faculty, and representatives from both the UC and CSU systems discussed the issue of campus policing.
UC Regent John Perez said he’s willing to discuss reducing the number of police officers allowed on campus by 40%.
“I don’t think [that] 40% number is wildly out of the range of possibility,” Perez said at the panel.
However, Perez and the UC Davis Chief of Police, Joseph Farrow, argued that it was necessary for the UC campuses to sustain their respective police departments.
“One of the reasons we need police on campuses is because campuses aren’t free from violent crime, and they’re not free from other expressions of crime that are appropriately responded to by police,” Perez said.
Naomi Waters, a UC Riverside student and UC Student Association (UCSA) chair for racial justice, spoke at the panel regarding the tense relationship between students and UCPD while discussing the state of campus policing.
“The UC’s police department has been involved in numerous incidents of flagrant abuses of authority while publicly engaging in conversation with students,” Waters said at the panel. ”It’s like you’re saying one thing but doing another. We haven’t even reached the tip of what we’re trying to do. There’s so much more work to be done.”
Waters also called to light the common goals shared by UC and CSU campuses. She argued that defunding campus police would aid in the fund reallocation process for mental health services. In the 2018-2019 school year, UCSD spent approximately $15 million on UCPD. The UC system overall spent $138 million.
UCPD are often dispatched as first responders to mental health crises. For students experiencing mental health emergencies, however, the presence of police can make this a traumatizing experience.
In an op-ed to The Triton, fourth-year student Tajiri Neuson recalls feeling unsettled when UCPD officers were dispatched to his home. At UCLA, another undergraduate student wrote in The Daily Bruin about being handcuffed and involuntarily hospitalized by UCPD after speaking with a therapist. Both these instances occurred after calls were made to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
According to the Cops Off Campus Coalition website at UCSD, a Bureau of Justice survey conducted in 2011-2012 showed that in four-year institutions with 2,500 students or more, “92% used armed officers in public universities, about 94% were authorized to use chemical or pepper spray and a baton, and 40% were permitted to use tasers.” In 2015, “over 100 university police forces also acquired military equipment and weapons.”
In the Bay Area, the Peralta Community College District was able to abolish police on their school campus by ending its contract with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department. When the school comes across a violent crime at school, outside police officers are called in.
UCSD Cops Off Campus previously organized a series of protests on campus during the coalition’s official launch on October 1, 2020. This included a banner drop at multiple sites and a live-streamed protest at Price Center. Protests also took place on the nine UC campuses as part of the launch day.
“We are committed to building community controlled resources for care and campus security that do not rely on punitive or carceral systems. The Cops [O]ff Campus coalition at its core believes that we can take care of each other, and we do not need the threat of violence to do so,” said Varma in her statement to The Triton.
Vanessa Gaeta-Munoz is a staff writer for The Triton.