Student Organization Working to Reform Campus Police

Members and supporters of the Students for a Democratic Society held a rally on Sept. 8 calling for the creation of an accountability council to oversee the ACPD. || Photo Courtesy of CU Denver SDS

Student activists hope to implement measures to ensure accountability for the Auraria Police Department

“Denver students demand defunding and disarmament of ACPD,” reads the headline of an article published in Fightbacknews.org. The students in question are members and supporters of the CU Denver chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The organization held a protest on Sept. 8 at the Tivoli Commons, rallying an around 50-strong crowd of people in demand of, in addition to defunding and disarmament, the creation and implementation of an accountability council to oversee the Auraria Campus Police Department (ACPD). The demonstration and demands were endorsed by the United Campus Workers Union, the Democratic Socialists of America, and other organizations. 

SDS is a national organization with chapters at various universities across the country. It was founded in the 1960s and came to prominence during the mass student uprisings against the Vietnam War. The organization dissolved in the 70s but was revived in 2006 in response to the war in Iraq and, “in an effort to re-found the kind of militant large, mass, student movement that existed in the 1960s,” according to SDS member Shaine Carroll-Frey. They hold yearly national conventions and organize protests with their chapters across the country against war, ICE, deportations, and other similarly progressive issues. The UCD chapter of SDS was founded in 2016 and was extremely active in 2020 during the mass civil unrest in response to police brutality. 

Now, the Denver SDS group has turned their focus back towards home with an effort to reform and establish democratic control over the police presence on campus. “We want to establish a civilian police accountability council that’s democratically elected—unlike the review board that currently exists,” said Carroll-Frey. 

According to the Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) website, “The ACPD Community Advisory Board (ACPD CAB) was established by the Auraria Executives Council in full collaboration with the Auraria Campus Police Department.” SDS takes issue with the term “in full collaboration.” ACPD CAB members are hired, not elected. Members of SDS applied for positions on the board; “none of them were selected, obviously,” said Carroll-Frey. 

The advisory board can make “recommendations related to campus issues and concerns,” and “provide feedback on specific incidents involving the ACPD,” according to the board’s AHEC webpage, but there is no mention of the ACPD being obligated to respond or adjust to their feedback. ACPD CAB released a statement on the trial of Derek Chauvin in which they reaffirmed their “commitment to anti-violence and to intentionally uplifting the voices of BIPOC and other historically marginalized communities.” A disclaimer at the bottom of this statement reads that, “the views expressed above…do not necessarily represent the views of the ACPD.” 

Carroll-Frey told the Sentry, “We view (ACPD CAB) as very much an appendage of ACPD. We view it as kind of a PR thing… as a way for the ACPD to kind of pretend to have accountability without actually having accountability.”  

He emphasized that SDS supports the idea of the advisory board. “The concept of having a board of people who have power over the police department is something we support, we just think the current board is not doing that,” said Carroll-Frey. “We think that we need to establish a separate entity, a democratically-elected board.” Ideally, for SDS, the ACPD would be under the command of this entity. “We believe that the people who control that budget and the practices and everything else of ACPD should be the people who are being policed.” 

SDS would also like to see a reduction in the size of ACPD’s budget. ACPD’s total expenditure was $4.1 million from 2019 to 2020 and $4.5 million from 2018 to 2019 according to their 2019 (and most recent) annual report. The report points out that this $4.1 million accounts for “less than 1% (.7% to be specific) of the total campus budget (the combined spending from AHEC, UCD, MSU, and CCD).” But with the economic stress the pandemic has put on the university budget, and with “millions of dollars going towards this police budget,” to SDS, “it just seems like a big waste of resources.” 

SDS recognizes that many students may have legitimate concerns for their safety which would lead them to support the ACPD’s high budget and lack of oversight. “We live in the U.S. where school shootings are a huge issue, and a common thing you’ll hear when you’re talking about decreasing the presence or funding of campus police is that they’re the only thing stopping school shootings,” Carroll-Frey told the Sentry. However, he said, “I think there’s a misconception that campus police—universities having their own police departments—started in the wake of Columbine and other school shootings. In fact, it actually started in the 1960s. Up until the 1960s…. local police could handle any (crime) that happened, and security outside of that was handled by administrators on campus. And the reason in the 60s that a lot of universities started getting their own police departments was in response to the uptick in student activism… and the massive demonstrations against the Vietnam war.” As for the original purpose of campus police, “they weren’t put here to protect students. They were put here to keep students in line.” 

In an ideal world, SDS would like to see the elimination of the ACPD entirely and instead have security be handled by unarmed security guards and the Denver Police Department in the event of more serious criminal activity. “Another interesting thing you’ll notice is that whenever there’s things on campus—actually dangerous situations—almost always DPD is involved as well. So, if DPD is already being called, then what is this extra police department for?” said Carroll-Frey. 

UCD SDS is comprised mostly of CU Denver students but welcomes any young person who wants to participate in their movement. “Any young person, any student who wants to get involved in activism, wants to get involved in trying to change things, can be a member.” According to Carroll-Frey, the group doesn’t believe in exclusion for any arbitrary ideological reasons not relevant to their cause; “We believe in building a mass movement around particular demands.”  

Denver SDS holds meetings each Thursday at 6pm; their next meeting will be held in Tivoli 640. “If you’re a young person who’s upset by all the injustices we see around us everyday, get involved, get involved with SDS,” said Carroll-Frey.

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