SGA Repeals Sponsorship for ACPD Community Outreach Events

SGA president Christopher Hilton initially attempted to veto the partnership with the ACPD but missed the window to do so as designated by SGA Senate procedure. || Photo by Enzi Gaydos

SGA pulls away from ACPD after backlash surrounding a campus event which some students call “misguided”

“I wanted to ask student government why you thought it was a good idea to invite the Denver Police Department and the FBI for a BBQ on Monday,” said a member of CU Denver’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), at the Oct. 29 Student Government Association’s (SGA) weekly Senate meeting.

On Oct. 25, the Auraria Campus Police Department (ACPD) co-hosted a campus event with SGA called “BBQ with a Badge,” during which ACPD officers handed out free hot dogs, chips, and drinks on the North side of the Arts building. The event was an attempt to foster community relations between the student body and police.

School of Public Affairs College Council Representative Jessica Valdez proposed the event partnership between the ACPD and the SGA in bill SB 04 at an SGA meeting last month. Valdez is also a member of the ACPD Community Advisory Board (ACPD CAB), an “independent advisory committee” tasked with making “recommendations related to campus issues and concerns, community outreach programs, training, policy development, and how to help the ACPD best support public safety on the Auraria Campus,” according to the AHEC website.

The ACPD CAB was established in September 2020 in response to “calls for racial justice and equity from communities across the United States, including here in Denver.” However, the board has been criticized as being inadequately equipped to implement meaningful reform.

Valdez’s bill laid out the importance of strong community relations between the ACPD and the student body and sought to help strengthen these relations in the form of two community-building events. Text from the bill read: “The SGA will co-host two events in October with the ACPD; a campus BBQ and a campus event to bring puppies from the MaxFund shelter on campus in order to facilitate [sic] building community relations between the student body and ACPD.”

SB 04 was debated during the Oct. 15 senate meeting, during which two officers from the ACPD, Commander Jason Mollendor and Sergeant Andrew Pannwitz, were present to respond to questions before the vote.

The officers stated how the ACPD’s goal is to create a comfortable environment for all students at Auraria, and that the department wants to be seen as approachable and non-threatening. Their proposed events would ideally create such an atmosphere as students, they said, would be more likely to approach the campus police if offered hot dogs, ice cream, and puppies.

Many SGA members expressed concern that there was a disconnect between the intention of the proposed events and what the events’ execution would actually accomplish; a higher than usual presence of armed and uniformed police officers, whether they’re handing out free food or not, may be more intimidating than welcoming. To solve this, the SGA members suggested that the officers wear “soft uniforms,” a less tactical, less intimidating, and more dressed-down version of the standard police uniforms. The officers in attendance said they would be open to the possibility of wearing “soft uniforms” should SGA find it necessary; however, they largely dismissed concerns about possible push-back from students.

The bill passed with 24 “yes” votes, one “present” vote, and zero “no” votes; and the first of the two proposed events, “BBQ with a Badge,” proceeded as scheduled on Oct. 25. The officers did not end up wearing “soft uniforms.” Additionally, they invited officers from the Denver Police Department (DPD) and the FBI to the event for outreach specifically to Criminal Justice students.

The event itself as well as the presence of these outside agencies generated controversy among student groups such as SDS. Members of SGA also felt that the ACPD had overstepped the bounds of the approved agreement. While the possible invitation of the DPD and the FBI was briefly mentioned during debate of SB 04, it was not discussed at length, nor was it written into the language of the bill that the SGA voted on and approved.

SDS—an on-campus activist group that advocates, in part, for police accountability—has been extremely clear about their disapproval of the ACPD. They released a statement to their social media pages on Oct. 25 condemning “BBQ with Badge” and the invitation of the FBI and DPD, calling it both “counterproductive” and “insulting.”

Further, SDS called it a “bogus attempt at relationship-building by ACPD, as their invitation of the DPD and FBI onto campus shows that they do not care about the safety or concerns of oppressed students on campus.”

On Oct. 26, the CU Denver SGA Twitter account tweeted, “Sponsorship of [BBQ with a Badge] has been vetoed by Student Government Association President, Christopher Hilton.”

However, according to SGA senate procedure, a bill must be vetoed within five days of passing. As Hilton attempted to veto SB 04 outside of this window, he instead introduced a new bill at the Oct. 29 senate meeting. This new bill, SB 10, would effectively repeal SB 04.

“The bill (SB 04) that was passed did not fall in line with what was actually executed. We got feedback in terms of uniforms, in terms of outreach to different groups, including SDS,” Hilton stated during Friday’s senate meeting.

He also revealed that many SGA members felt pressured to support SB 04 due to the circumstances surrounding the initial vote. “I heard from far too many people that they were not comfortable with the votes that they themselves cast,” Hilton said. “Whether that was due to the author being present, or the ACPD being in the room, I’m not very comfortable with that reasoning, but I’m also more uncomfortable with the fact that it was a significant enough amount of people that it could have changed the outcome of the bill.”

Hilton acknowledged the importance of building bonds between SGA and the ACPD, as SGA exists to represent all students, including those seeking to go into criminal justice and criminal justice reform. These students were intended to be the main targets of SB 04. However, according to Hilton, the event was not executed in a way that was helpful for all students at Auraria Campus. “I personally think the first action should have been a town hall and a discussion of policing at large,” he said.

SB 10 passed 13-3, repealing the SGA and ACPD partnership; the second ACPD event designated by SB 04 will not go forward as scheduled. Instead, the SGA will work to create a more effective and thoughtful event that will intend to create a deliberative dialogue between students and police.

A town hall-style event will give students an opportunity to voice concerns and speak directly to ACPD. It is likely a more appropriate setup than a casual barbecue that essentially ignores the obvious tensions people feel towards police departments.

SGA will work on developing this new event and expect it to move forward sometime in the Spring 2022 semester.

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