June 17, 2021

A message from President Paino to the UMW community

Action Steps to Reform Policing at UMW:

University Response to the UMW Community Advisory Panel (CAP) Final Report

When I joined the University of Mary Washington (UMW) in 2016, the Board of Visitors charged me with articulating a vision for the University. After a year of listening to all the University’s constituency groups, a few themes emerged. One, in particular, was UMW’s longstanding commitment to service, and community and civic engagement. This theme touches on the primary public purpose of UMW’s mission: To equip students with the ability to address society’s demands, to identify and challenge injustices, and to embrace the world’s possibilities. Therefore, the first pillar of UMW’s strategic vision, An Investment of Hope for the Future, is to provide an increasingly diverse population with the opportunity to improve their lives, their communities, and the world around them. The goal is to prepare and empower our graduates to engage with the issues of the day with rigor, curiosity, and empathy.

In response to the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, several students and members of the Mary Washington community joined other citizens in Fredericksburg to take to the streets to protest in the UMW tradition of community and civic engagement. They joined in the initial public protests, which mirrored activity across the nation and continued for several days throughout the summer of 2020. On one evening of protests, May 31, 2020, the Fredericksburg City Police Department invoked a mutual aid agreement between the City of Fredericksburg and the University of Mary Washington, requesting assistance from the UMW Police Department to manage the protests. Five UMW Police officers were dispatched to guard the Fredericksburg Police Department building and one was dispatched downtown. Later that evening, members of the Fredericksburg City Police’s Tactical Field Force used tear gas and a sting-ball grenade to disperse the crowd of protestors, evoking a strong reaction from members of the UMW community who were involved in the protests. As they shared with me after the protest, many of the UMW protestors were confused, disappointed, and even angered by the presence of UMW police. They expressed a sense of betrayal and fracture of trust that the same University that encouraged them to use their voice to speak for what is right may have participated in an effort to quell their demonstrations and free speech.

In the aftermath of this event, I heard from hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and alumni who believed the presence of UMW Police at the Fredericksburg City Police Department headquarters on the evening of May 31 called into question the department’s commitment to the safety of the UMW community. They demanded answers, accountability, reform, and in some cases, the complete abolishment of the campus police department.

As I reflected on UMW’s public purpose and vision, I thought about trust. We are living at a time when trust in our important democratic institutions is at a low point. This mistrust threatens our nation’s ability to respond to big problems. If UMW is going to fulfill its mission to prepare engaged citizens for our democracy, we must demonstrate good governance through a commitment to transparency, accountability, and a willingness to listen to those who have concerns. To do nothing in response to these heartfelt concerns would have only added to this generation’s erosion of trust. While some demanded immediate action, I believed a deliberative process dedicated to collecting the facts and listening to all involved gave us the best chance to model the sort of accountability required amid a crisis of confidence.

Toward that end, I formed a Community Advisory Panel (CAP) consisting of Board of Visitors members, alumni, faculty, staff, students, and community members. In a move that proved controversial to some, UMW Police Chief Mike Hall was later added to the CAP to ensure access to necessary and relevant information from the police. I thought it was important to include Chief Hall to ensure all perspectives were a part of this conversation. His participation reflected our commitment to inclusion and an understanding of the situation from a professional policing perspective. University Police are important individual members of the UMW community, and the department has been accredited nationally for meeting rigorous policing standards. I felt strongly that their views, just like those demanding police reform or abolishment, should be a part of the process and conversation.

I charged CAP (1) to provide a full and open accounting of the events surrounding the May 31 protest in Fredericksburg and the role played by the campus police, (2) to identify lessons learned and what reforms, if any, need to be made to ensure that the policies, practices, and procedures of UMW police align with UMW’s community values, and (3) determine if we need to reframe the role of campus police in light of the current climate.

CAP met weekly over the summer, fall, and winter, to listen, to research, to discuss, and to debate. While I was not a part of these meetings, I understand many were long, emotional, contentious, and exhausting. It took its toll on these individuals who committed to the process, and we should all be grateful for their service. Last month we shared the CAP’s final report with the UMW community and asked for feedback. Now that I have considered both the report and the community’s feedback, I am prepared to announce the following action steps as it relates to campus policing:

  1. Establish a Campus Policing Advisory Council (CPAC). This Council will be comprised of students, faculty, staff, administration, and University Police to serve as a bridge between the Campus Community and University Police. The Council will recommend reforms to reflect best practices in bias-free, inclusive policing and develop a process to continuously review and assess the effectiveness of campus policing policies and procedure, while also actively working to ensure alignment with accreditation standards.
  2. Assess the University’s existing Mutual Aid Agreements to ensure that they are compliant with state law and follow best practices in the promotion of campus safety.

  3. Review the General Orders, Mission Statement, and Code of Conduct for our University police. These documents govern policing operations at the University, and they should reflect ASPIRE values and recent changes to Virginia law.
  4. Create a More Transparent System of Information Sharing. We will enhance the University Police website to include the following information:
    • Updated General Orders, Code of Conduct, and Mission Statement
    • Department policies
    • Department demographics, as well as officer identification and training credentials, where possible without infringing on individual employee rights and safety
    • Reports on department activity, including calls for service, reason for the call, response times, and resolutions

      5. Restructure mental health crisis response. I will ask Dr. Juliette Landphair, Vice President for Student Affairs, and Dr. Tev Zukor, Director of the Talley Counseling Center, to form a working group that includes University Police, those on staff responsible for mental health crisis response, and interested students, to develop a timeline and plan for reform that might include:

      • 24/7 availability of clinical professionals for student support
      • Changes in UMW Police protocols during a mental health crisis
      • More Residence Life staff training and communication responsibilities to proactively inform students about student support options
  5.   Create more opportunities for University Police to build relationships with UMW community members. As stated in the preamble to these reform efforts, UMW Police officers are also valuable members of the UMW community. Successful policing depends on officers actively building relationships with the community members they serve. To accomplish this goal, I will ask Residence Life, the James Farmer Multicultural Center, interested student groups, and University Police to form a working group to create a plan for more positive and informal interactions among community members and police in non-policing activities.
  6.     Integrate University Police more intentionally in our efforts towards inclusive excellence. In 2019, UMW adopted its community values of ASPIRE, which includes our aspiration to be a welcoming and nurturing environment for all. With the state’s recent launch of One Virginia, UMW will initiate a strategic planning process “to sustain an environment that fosters inclusive practices in all its daily operations, as well as accountability in achieving the University’s DE&I goals.” The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council (DEIC) working group will include UMW Police representation to continue our efforts to build trust and collaboration across our community.

In addition, as a member of Virginia’s Council of Presidents and of the Presidents’ Equity in Action working group, I will initiate a conversation with my colleagues to discuss statewide campus policing standards for all Virginia public universities.

Again, I would like to thank the members of CAP and all of those students, alumni, faculty, and staff who engaged in this process. It is important to note, CAP found UMW Campus Police acted in accordance with current UMW policy and procedures the evening of May 31, and no UMW police officers were engaged in the use of tear gas. It is also important to note, however, that members of the UMW community involved in those protests were traumatized by the events of that night. The presence of UMW police amid the broader response to the protests added to their hurt, anger, and confusion. The misperceptions about the evening and the loss of trust suggest a need for reform.

The above steps are a beginning and not an end. These measures are intended to create a system of governance and culture that ensures ongoing transparency, accountability, and reform to build the trust needed for University Police to do its job effectively while preserving our community members’ ability to find and use their voices.

 

Sincerely,

Troy D. Paino
President