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Students and others call for UC San Diego Police Department to be abolished

A UC San Diego student is pulled over by a campus police officer in 2019.
A UC San Diego student is pulled over by a campus police officer in 2019.
(Gary Robbins / The San Diego Union-Tribune )

A group calls on the university to divest police funds and invest in resources for students instead.

A small group of UC San Diego students, backed by other community members, are calling for the campus’s police force to be abolished.

“The police don’t keep us safe and [the system] cannot be reformed,” Simeon Man, an associate professor in history at the La Jolla university, said at a news conference June 9.

More than a dozen people — including students, activists and educators — gathered at Civic Center Plaza in downtown San Diego. They accused the UCSD Police Department of being a racist and intimidating force, echoing complaints about other police agencies. They called on the university to divert police funds toward resources for students in areas such as housing and mental health.

They held signs reading “Cops off campus” and wrote chalk messages, including “Demilitarize our community,” “Who do police serve?” and “Imagine real safety for all.”

Asked to respond to the demand that the university disband its Police Department, a UCSD representative said, “There is no higher priority for the University of California than the safety and security of students, faculty, staff, patients and visitors.”

Spokeswoman Leslie Sepuka said plans are underway to transform the university system’s “culture, policies and practices to achieve a vision of safety in which all members of the community feel further welcomed, respected and protected.”

The work began months ago with the formation of a campus-based safety task force intended to engage the university community to re-envision campus safety and policing, Sepuka said. She also pointed to conferences in February and March that focused on reimagining public safety on campus.

“These efforts, in addition to input from stakeholders across the UC system, including students, faculty, staff and administrators, informed the key elements of a plan that will be unveiled later this summer,” she said.

At Civic Center Plaza, several speakers highlighted the story of a student who was pulled over by UC San Diego police officers two weeks ago.

The reason Essence LeAnn was stopped at about 2 a.m. May 25 is unclear. LeAnn said police initially told her a maintenance worker claimed she had taken a ladder and placed it in the pickup she was driving, though an officer later told her the worker said he believed she was stealing bicycles.

Officers ended up giving LeAnn a warning for driving with an obstructed license plate.

LeAnn contended the stop was an example of racial profiling and intimidation by police.

Ahmad Mahmuod of activist group Pillars of the Community said there’s a misconception that campus police are a “friendly, easier-going, cuter police department” than larger agencies like the San Diego Police Department.

“But the truth is, we know that could not be more false,” he said. He asserted that police at UC campuses harass Black and Brown students and staff daily. “We have known for a very long time that policing as an institution is rotten at its core.”

Justin Akers Chacón, a U.S. history and Chicano studies professor at San Diego City College who spoke in opposition to police on campus, noted that university police officers’ basic training is no different than that for a city police officer.

“They execute the same kind of policing,” he said. ◆