UMD organizations fight to reform policing on campus
University of Maryland Police headquarters are located in the Pocomoke Building. (Elliot Scarangello / The Diamondback)
With the fall semester in full swing, the University of Maryland and many campus organizations have begun to tackle what campus policing reform could look like at the university.
Here’s how the university, the Black Faculty and Staff Association, the Student Government Association and Black Terps Matter are reckoning with campus policing reform.
University of Maryland Task Force on Campus Policing
In June, the university launched an anti-racism plan. University President Darryll Pines established a task force on community policing in July, which will provide recommendations to improve campus public safety.
The task force had its first meeting Sept. 29, where members discussed how to take a comprehensive look at the university police department, its policies and how it interacts with the community.
University Police “is actively engaged on the University’s task force on community policing, and we welcome the opportunity to work with any of our campus groups on matters of community policing and safety,” spokesperson Sgt. Rosanne Hoaas wrote in an emailed statement.
Throughout the process of gathering information for these recommendations, the task force hopes to foster discussion about police reform on the campus. Bonnie Thornton Dill, who co-chairs the university’s task force, said the recommendations could promote accountability and better the relationship among students, faculty, staff and the police department.
“People would kind of be able to feel like they knew what was going on and they knew where to get information,” said Dill, dean of the arts and humanities college.
The task force expects to provide their set of recommendations by January or February, said Dean Gregory Ball, dean of the behavioral and social sciences college, who also co-chairs the task force.
Black Faculty And Staff Association
The Black Faculty and Staff Association launched a subcommittee on campus policing following a series of town halls over the summer, where staff expressed concerns about racism on the campus. The town halls were used as “galvanization and mobilization to corral that energy,” said BFSA President Solomon Comissiong.
The BFSA, along with the Nyumburu Cultural Center, was not included in the university’s task force. This exclusion raises questions, committee chair Tim Baldauf-Lenschen wrote in an email.
BFSA’s subcommittee will work to reform policing to be more community-based, ask for more transparency from police and serve as a voice to the university’s communities of color to help reshape public safety, Baldauf-Lenschen wrote.
“We believe community … and external review task forces should be just that,” Baldauf-Lenschen wrote. “Built by and for the community, and truly external, not by the very organization it is meant to hold accountable.”
Dill and Ball pointed out that the task force represents a large group of community members, including Black faculty and staff who were already engaging in conversations about police reform. When selecting task force members, Dill and Ball received various nominations and suggestions and worked with others, including Pines, they said.
Student Government Association
The Student Government Association released a roadmap over the summer to address systemic racism on the campus and promote inclusivity — a goal the body has started working toward, SGA President Dan Alpert said.
This roadmap outlined different initiatives the SGA is working on to reform campus policing, such as establishing more concrete gun procedures, restructuring police auxiliary training and establishing clear anti-racism policies.
So far, the SGA has looked into mental health first aid training and will be hosting a mental health first aid certification course for students, Alpert said. The SGA has also had conversations about mental health, diversity training and gun procedures with the Prince George’s County and University Police departments.
These conversations will help the SGA understand the police’s operations and help evaluate their partnerships with these organizations, Alpert said.
The SGA has also worked with the administration on the administration’s task force, where Alpert serves as a student representative, he said.
Alpert emphasized that while the SGA wants to make continual progress, these changes will take time.
“There’s two aspects: You want to make sure things happen quickly, but you also want to make sure things happen the right way, because if not it won’t be effective and it won’t be efficient and change won’t happen. Change takes time,” he said.
Black Terps Matter
Black Terps Matter, a student-led organization that advocates for racial justice and Black pride, has continued the work they began over the summer by pushing the university administration to make change and host events to empower and care for Black students, said Saba Tshibaka, one of the group’s organizers.
Over the summer, along with organizing a protest and a teach-in on the campus, the group released a set of demands to change the campus climate surrounding race. These demands, including calls to decrease the presence of University Police in dorms and to divest from Prince George’s County Police, went unanswered for a long time, Tshibaka said. But the administration has slowly started to work with the group — Pines recently recommended the group submit their demands for the university’s legal team to look over, she added.
Tshibaka said the university task force feels like a way to dodge students’ demands. Black Terps Matter also submitted a 16-page proposal on campus policing reform, but the university didn’t acknowledge it until Tshibaka brought it up in a meeting with Pines and students leaders, she said.
“While there are coalitions being made, working groups being established, there is and has been no progress for the Black community,” said Tshibaka, a senior philosophy, politics and economics major. ”The morale and livelihood and quality of life that Black students at the University of Maryland has had since the summer, I wouldn’t say that it’s been getting any better or increasing. If anything, it’s been getting worse.”
Tshibaka said she is also in five working groups to advance conversations about racial justice, but it can feel discouraging to discuss police reform without action, she added.
To truly see action, Tshibaka says individuals have to work for it themselves instead of waiting on institutions.
“It’s not on [working groups] anymore, and it’s not even on administration,” she said. “It’s literally up to us … to find out about these things for ourselves, follow and turn our notifications on.”