The University of Chicago has made headlines for its commitment to the values of freedom of expression, transparency, and discourse. However, while the administration expects students to live by these stated values, administrators themselves rarely give students the same courtesy. This year alone, we have seen Robert Zimmer and the University’s administration as a whole refuse to recognize the Graduate Student Union and evade demands for recognition. In addition, the University refuses to release information pertaining to the funding and operation of its private police force. The University proudly boasts that the UCPD is one of the largest private police forces in the world, presiding over a jurisdiction of about 65,000 people (50,000 of whom are not affiliated with the University). But despite the scope and scale of the UCPD, information about the number of officers, the details of their weaponry, and its operating budget is impossible to find. This is because as a private police force, the UCPD is not subject to the same legislative accountability measures as public police forces like the CPD, and so is not legally compelled to release budgetary information.
However, we believe community members have a right to know exactly where the UCPD’s funding comes from, and how it spends the money it receives. We are not alone; members of the University and surrounding communities have long called for increased accountability and transparency that would shed light on the UCPD’s operations.
These calls for action have led to change. For example, as a result of past organizing by the Coalition for Equitable Policing (CEP), the UCPD now releases a detailed log of daily incident reports, which are available on their website. However, daily incident reports do little to assuage community concerns about the jurisdiction and tactics of the UCPD, especially in light of repeated incidents of brutality. Notable examples in recent UCPD history include the 2010 incident in which the UCPD assaulted and arrested a Black student in the main library for “making too much noise,” and the 2013 incident in which the UCPD brutalized a student and three community activists campaigning for a trauma center on the South Side. More recently, in March of 2018, a UCPD officer drew his weapon on a young, Black, autistic man who had been accused of stealing cookies. Less than a month later, in April of 2018, a UCPD officer shot and injured then fourth-year student Charles Thomas while he was in the midst of a mental health crisis, sparking the #CareNotCops campaign. In addition to these publicized incidents of excessive force, the UCPD regularly stops, frisks, and questions Black and Brown students and residents, who are routinely targeted and racially profiled by UCPD officers.
The UCPD’s website boasts its efforts to “enhance the transparency of our policing activities” and describes the police force as one which holds an “unwavering commitment to a code of honesty.” However, in practice, a daily incident report is hardly enough to get a full and transparent picture of the UCPD’s “policing activities.” Despite its stated commitment to transparency, the UCPD refuses to release any information on the finances of the department, arguing that doing so would not constitute a “best practice.” However, we fail to see how upholding a stated commitment to transparency and honesty is anything less than a “best practice.” The UCPD exists within the larger ecosystem of the University, and money that goes to hiring officers or expanding jurisdiction is money not spent on mental health services for students or resources for community members. We deserve a say in these funding allocation decisions. We need transparency and dialogue that goes beyond daily incident reports, and we need a sense of the big picture of UCPD presence on campus and in the surrounding communities. Without a detailed breakdown of the University and the UCPD’s budget, or even an accurate annual figure, the administration refuses the campus community the opportunity to have a say as to how our money is spent.
Recognizing this need for more detailed information about the inner workings of the UCPD, we call on President Zimmer to release a complete and thorough breakdown of the University’s most recent annual budget, including the total quantity of the Safety & Security funding and the individual dollar amounts allotted to the UCPD and to each of its programs and operations. We demand that this breakdown include a detailed account of the UCPD’s arsenal, as well as the annual cost of employing the UCPD’s officers on and around campus. We demand that this information be made readily accessible from the University’s Department of Safety & Security website and updated annually, with any significant budget changes, restructuring, or expansions published immediately and announced through a campus-wide e-mail upon approval. Transparency is but a means to an end. In this case, that end is a University that is safe for all, including for the communities that are currently targeted and harassed by the UCPD.
We stand in a long tradition of student activists, community organizers, South Side residents, University faculty, and elected officials who have recognized the need for more publicly available information about the UCPD, particularly with regard to its policing practices and spending decisions. In addition to writing in solidarity with students and community members who have issued past calls for increased UCPD accountability, we write as part of a national student movement, #FreedomCampus, which demands that our universities divest from the prison industrial complex and reinvest into communities. The University need not wait for a legal impetus; they should instead respond to the concerns of students, alumni, and community members who deserve to know how their money is being put to use by the University.
This call for the release of the UCPD budget is only one part of our efforts to imagine a world that functions without police forces and instead prioritizes investment in the mental and physical well-being of community members. We want to situate these demands within the context of a larger vision that seeks ultimately to find other methods of creating safety and security, both on and off campus. In order to build a healthy campus community, UChicago must go beyond the current plans to expand the mental health center. This might look like investment in community-driven health and education programs, expanded financial support through grants, scholarships, and other programs for first-generation, low-income students, or investing in truly inclusive structural changes, such as creating Cultural Centers and a Comparative Race & Ethnic Studies Department.
We call on President Zimmer to #ReleaseTheBudget immediately, and to make good on the University’s promise of honesty and transparency when it comes to policing practices.
If you're interested in getting involved, reach out to us through the UChicago United or SWAP Facebook page.
#CareNotCops is a joint campaign by student groups UChicago United and Students Working Against Prisons (SWAP) that is committed to building alternatives to police and educating the UChicago community about the University’s impact on Hyde Park, Woodlawn, Washington Park, Kenwood, and other surrounding neighborhoods. We advocate for the redirection of University funds from policing to mental health and other services for communities both on and off campus.