UC Academic Council calls for radical reform of UC police force

UCPD car outside of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley
Ariel Hayat/File
A UCPD car parked outside of Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus.

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The UCPD is in need of a “visionary and transformative” restructuring in the wake of the national Black Lives Matter movement, the UC Academic Council said in a letter June 29.

The Academic Council, chaired by Kum-Kum Bhavnani, is the executive arm of the UC Academic Senate, a body of faculty members from across the UC system. Its letter, addressed to the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, outlines five key recommendations for the restructure. The enumerated points include defunding UCPD and redistributing those resources into the development of other methods of campus safety, investing in the well-being of marginalized student groups and banning firearms as standard police equipment.

The letter also calls for the dissolution of any partnerships or agreements with non-UC law enforcement agencies, as well as the implementation of these recommendations within a three-year period, working closely with groups that have traditionally been mistreated by police.

“The University of California’s Office of the President appreciates the recommendations from UC’s Academic Council and will take them under consideration,” said UCOP spokesperson Stett Holbrook in an email.

Holbrook added that the administration is continuing to find ways to ensure public safety through conversations with campuses and community members.

Bhavnani and her colleagues listed in the letter several issues with UCPD’s current approach to policing, such as “distressing interactions” between campus officers and students or faculty of color, militarization and excessive use of force during campus protests.

“The senate has been concerned about the UCPD for several years,” said Oliver O’Reilly, chair of the UC Berkeley branch of the Academic Senate. “With the protests following George Floyd’s murder and the increased awareness of social injustice and police brutality, the time had come to take a stand.”

O’Reilly added that instances of police violence had occurred on UC campuses as early as 2011.

The recommendations are drawn from testimony from students and faculty across the UC system, according to the letter, and aim to achieve more sweeping change than the “narrow-bore and technocratic reforms” of previous reports regarding UC policing.

UC Student Association President Varsha Sarveshwar expressed agreement with the recommendations and called for the dismantlement of the UCPD in a statement June 2. Sarveshwar added that UCPD presence on campus perpetuates a hostile environment for underrepresented students of color, particularly Black students.

O’Reilly said he understands the concerns of those who feel that disarming the police would make campus less safe, as UC Berkeley has a high crime rate.

He urged opponents, however, to put themselves in the shoes of members of the Black community being questioned about their presence on campus by armed officers.

“I hope they would then realize that a better system of public safety and support has to be implemented,” O’Reilly said.

According to O’Reilly, if the recommendations are implemented, it would be in close consultation with campus groups and add to existing UCPD reforms announced last month by Chancellor Carol Christ.

Contact Annika Rao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @annikyr.