COLUMN: Abolish MUPD

The MU campus is overpoliced, and to make our campus safer, we need to rethink where we allocate funds.

Noah Wright is a sophomore constitutional democracy major at MU. They are an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

Covid-19 has brought the nature of community safety to national attention. Likewise, the Black Lives Matter movement has called to attention the role of police in our society, questioning if they truly exist to protect and serve as conventionally thought. As we bring these national conversations to a local level, we must also examine the role of MUPD, a police department with primary jurisdiction over MU. If our goal is campus safety, we must ensure that university funds are going to the right places.

According to publicly available information obtained from the MUPD website, there are currently 50 commissioned officers, 8 security officers and between 15-50 seasonal part-time campus safety officers employed through MUPD. This police department, according to their website, is equipped with rifles, door-breaching materials, “less-lethal” shotguns, tasers, body cameras and a fleet of vehicles equipped with cameras.

If we take the number posted on the MUPD website, there are around 45,000 people on MU campus on a typical day, although this number is sure to be lower due to COVID-19 restrictions. Using the lowest number of part-time officers in a typical year, this means there are approximately 16 officers for every 10,000 people, and the maximum number of seasonal officers leaves us with a figure of about 24 officers per 10,000 people. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the national average of sworn officers per 10,000 residents is 24.

At first glance, the numbers appear to indicate that on a typical day the MU campus is less policed than the national average. However, if we factor in the 174 sworn officers of the Columbia police department, the second department with jurisdiction over MU, the number is closer to an astounding 54 officers per 10,000 people. It must be noted that these officers serve the rest of Columbia, Mo., not just the MU campus. Using the sum of the officers with jurisdiction over MU’s campus and thereby MU students, the ratio indicates that the MU campus is more heavily policed than the cities of Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis, to name a few (44.2 sworn officers per 10k residents, 29.1 and 38.4, respectively).

Considering the crimes committed on the MU campus are overwhelmingly traffic violations and drug/alcohol related incidents, this figure is absurd. Not only is this rate of policing a waste of money in Columbia’s already-struggling economy, it fails to make the community safer.

A more effective strategy to combat drug and alcohol abuse, specifically in the MU student population, would be addressing where the problem actually lies. In national publications, such as Humans of University, the MU student body consistently ranks as having one of the highest rates of depression among U.S. colleges. Perhaps if the university invested more into campus mental health services, instead of a private, wasteful and unnecessarily militarized police force, the community would be safer for all students.

In discussing the role of mental health in community safety, we must not ignore who is made to feel “safe” by the police. For example, when officers respond to an incident at a predominantly white Greek life party, those in attendance likely don’t fear for their life. This is not the case for Black students, who must stomach walking through an overpoliced campus on a daily basis.

Recently, a video was shared on a widely followed twitter page, @BarstoolMizzou, that showed a young white citizen of Columbia running from the police and seemingly escaping arrest. While the intent was comedic, it’s hard to justify using this video for entertainment when we have collectively watched police officers choke, shoot, brutalize and murder Black people on these same social media platforms.

The reality is, Black children have been murdered by the police for doing less than what the man in the video attempted, which was documented resistance to arrest.

Everyone should be able to receive an education without fearing for their life. While MU’s COVID-19 response has revealed that student safety is apparently of no concern to administrators, it’s time to realign our values as a university, community and a nation as a whole. Police fail to reduce crime and are unable to combat the true crises in our community.

The existence of the MU police department is a complete waste of university funds and we should demand nothing less than complete abolishment. Columbia is “protected” by the Columbia police department. The existence of an additional group of officers on campus is a threat to the health and well-being of students. We must allocate our funds instead to mental health resources, healthcare, COVID-19 testing and, most importantly, funding the social justice organizations and programs that aid Black students at MU.

Please consider making a donation to http://criticalresistance.org/donate/ways-to-give/, an organization dedicated to prison abolition and ending mass incarceration.

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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