Opinion | Vote no to defunding campus police

A+University+police+officer+is+parked+at+a+crime+scene+after+responding+to+a+call+on+Oct.+8.+Columnist+Matthew+Krauter+argues+that+the+University+of+Illinois+Police+Department+shouldn%E2%80%99t+be+defunded+to+then+allocate+money+towards+mental+health+resources+because+they+are+separate+issues+and+should+be+dealt+with+as+such.+

Cameron Krasucki

A University police officer is parked at a crime scene after responding to a call on Oct. 8. Columnist Matthew Krauter argues that the University of Illinois Police Department shouldn’t be defunded to then allocate money towards mental health resources because they are separate issues and should be dealt with as such.

By Matthew Krauter, Senior Columnist

The annual student elections at the University of Illinois are upon us, and if that means one thing, it’s that chalked campaign messages will spontaneously surround the Alma Mater and Main Quad. 

A particularly foolish line of chalk this year urges students to vote in favor of a referendum to defund the University of Illinois Police Department by 25% and feasibly redirect the funding towards mental health resources.

This referendum should garner no support, as it ignores the recent efforts of the UIPD and gives students a false binary of effective policing or mental health resources.

The movement to defund the campus police is driven by two separate issues: the distrust in police from a summer of racial tension following George Floyd’s death, and the failure of the University to adequately respond to the mental health needs of students. These are two serious issues that demand to be considered separately.

The goal of the police is to serve their communities by impartially and justly upholding the law, but they need the consent and trust of the people to operate effectively. The UIPD has been forthright in its commitment to rebuilding that trust. 

Their department screens new employees for histories of racism, abuse, xenophobia, homophobia or other types of discrimination. Officers are expected to be tolerant in both service and private life, and can be disciplined for inappropriate actions in either. The University of Illinois Police Training Institute focuses on verbal de-escalation skills. Officers are required to take courses on civil rights, mental health awareness, use of force, bias training and crisis intervention. 

Officers are required to intervene if another officer illegally violates a citizen’s constitutional rights or endangers their life illegally. The entire department has received just two citizen complaints each year from 2017 to 2019 out of over 12,000 annual citizen contacts. 

Bad cops must be held accountable to prevent injustice. Former President Trump signed an executive order establishing a national database that tracks officers with complaints of excessive force, ensuring officers’ records follow them wherever they go.

When a police department subjects their officers to such thorough training, pledges and actively combats discrimination and receives such few complaints, it is very difficult to argue they deserve to be defunded on grounds of racial injustice.

Lockdown is mentally tolling on students. Professional opportunities are scarce, social life is barren and the lack of motivation to work among “wellness days” is real. Students are anxious, depressed and demand better mental health resources. The police, therein, have worked to better their responses to mental health crises.

In February, the C-U police departments began developing a co-responder model to allow social workers to respond to certain mental health crises. Different situations require contrasting responses; sometimes police aren’t necessary unless the situation presents a danger. With the guidance of the Champaign County Mental Health Board and two hospitals, this co-responder model is finely being developed.

The UIPD has similarly focused on the potential utility of mental health expert responders through their REACH and COAST initiatives. Through these, social workers and even therapy, K9 teams co-respond with officers in mental health emergencies. They then connect students with mental health services such as the University counseling center. Recently, the UIPD began the hiring process for a second social worker.

The University’s counseling center resources may be insufficient for the needs of the students, but that is not the fault of the UIPD. Students should demand better mental health resources without sacrificing police resources. 

If the UIPD were to be defunded, a natural rise in crime will follow. The UIPD provides an invaluable role to the students of this campus by investigating instances of sexual abuse, drug and alcohol-related crimes, offering SafeWalks, investigating thefts and sending alerts when dangerous situations arise. It is unjust to defund their budget by 25%, leaving them with fewer resources to combat and deter crime in our community. Hiring more counselors will not counteract the increased crime from decreased policing.

Defunding the police is a narrow-sighted and irresponsible response to the immediate challenges our campus and nation face. Better mental health and effective policing benefit the entire University community and they are compatible goals: seek better student representatives than those who would tell you otherwise.

Vote for your campus by voting no to defunding the campus police and voting against candidates in favor of it. 

Matthew is a junior in LAS.

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