Students question UVA’s policing efforts heading into new school year

WVIR 6 PM Newscast
Updated: Jul. 22, 2020 at 6:16 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Students at the University of Virginia are sharing their concerns over the university’s policing efforts, demanding funding reallocation and greater transparency. University Police Chief Tim Longo is also sharing his concerns over current student-police relations.

“The word ‘defund’, signals to me, there’s been a loss of hope. A loss of hope that the policing environment that people want to see, that people would expect, that would be most comfortable with, didn’t exist,” Longo said.

In a recent survey conducted by UVA Student Council, 98% of respondents supported the defunding of university police.

Emily Leventhal, the chair of the Safety and Wellness Committee of UVA’s Student Council, said the group created a Student-Police Advisory Board to improve relations between students and police and act as a platform for students.

“A lot of students in the survey support demilitarization and then also just increased oversight over the police. It’s really hard to find online how much funding they get and how much of the administration actually oversees that,” Leventhal said.

According to the survey, 60% of respondents reported negative experiences with university police.

“Some of them were excessive force, which I can’t think of many reasons why that would ever have to happen. A lot of students of color saying that they had been harassed on multiple occasions for issues they had no relation to and that’s just clearly an act of prejudice and racial bias. A lot of people complained about the system for sexual assault,” Leventhal said.

Although only 54 people have responded to the survey so far, both Leventhal and Longo said just one negative experience is enough to signal reevaluation of policing efforts.

“If 54 people believe that, then there’s 54 minds and hearts that I need to begin to have conversations with to change the way they look at the university police department and police culture. I can tell you in 2019, there were no reported incidents of force,” Longo said.

Chief Longo said he wants to actively restore the UVA community’s trust by working with the Student-Police Advisory Board, helping to improve student-police relations on grounds by listening to concerns and evaluating current policing measures.

“We’ve taken a public step to stand with our community for peace and justice. That’s what this pin means and that’s what the sign in front of the station means. And I know that they’re just symbols. Our job is to prove that they’re more than just symbols, through our actions,” Longo said. “I’ve asked the university to place within the police department a position for diversity, equity and inclusion, someone who will report directly to me that will help look at our policies and practices, who will help look at our hiring and employment trends.”

Both Leventhal and Longo agree that UVA faculty and staff need to also join in on the discussion to help spur positive change this fall.

The Student-Police Advisory Board will meet in August to further discuss policing efforts for the fall semester, which begins August 25.

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