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Sandra Steingraber, an alum of the University of Michigan and former opinion writer for The Michigan Daily, said she doesn’t remember the University’s first arrest following the deputization of campus police officers. Steingraber, who was a Rackham student at the time and now teaches environmental studies at Ithaca College, was unconscious. She was carried away on a stretcher by the Ann Arbor Fire Department after being thrown to the ground by an Ann Arbor police officer on Oct. 6, 1988.
“I have a really strong memory of the back of my head hitting the pavement because it just sounded like a metal bat hitting a ball,” Steingraber said.
When Leo Heatley, director of the University’s Department of Public Safety, draped his coat over Steingraber, Cale Southworth, then a colleague of Steingraber’s at The Daily, demanded Heatley get off her. Heatley then threw Southworth to the ground. After Southworth tried to run away, DPS Assistant Director Robert Pifer arrested him. Heatley and Pifer were the first two public safety officers deputized at the University.
Prior to former University President James Duderstadt’s inauguration, dozens of protesters demonstrated on North University Ave. Students criticized what they called a clandestine process to install Duderstadt as president, alleging violations of the Open Meetings Act, which requires local governing bodies to conduct their business transparently. The students also took issue with Duderstadt’s ties to military research.
Steingraber attempted to enter Hill Auditorium with Rollie Hudson, an opinion writer at The Daily, to cover the ceremony. Steingraber said when Hudson reached into his pocket to display his press pass to the law enforcement officers blocking the entrance, police tackled him to the ground.
“He started bleeding and they were grinding his head to the pavement, and it became suddenly very dreamlike,” Steingraber said. “It was as if no sound was coming out of my mouth.”
She and other students followed Hudson as police allegedly tossed him in the unmarked car.
“He started to smear his blood on the inside of the windows to show us that he was bleeding,” Steingraber said.
Steingraber said she was jarred by how the police treated her colleague Hudson, a Black man.
“We were just reporters who were going inside to cover something that we had every right to go into, and it wasn’t me who was grabbed and smashed into the ground,” Steingraber said. “It was the Black man standing next to me.”
Steingraber remembers standing in front of the car as other students surrounded it, but from that point, she said her memory fades. Laura Shue, who was an LSA junior, told The Daily at the time the AAPD officer threw Steingraber on the ground “with a vengeance” for blocking the car.
“There was no need to use that much force,” Shue said. “I’d never seen anything like it. They don’t need guns if they’re that brutal.”
Hudson did not respond to request for comment prior to publication.
In the aftermath of the incident, University student activists mobilized against the Duderstadt administration as it increased the presence of law enforcement on campus, first instituted as part of a policy that students said limited protests against controversial guest speakers.
After police officers killed George Floyd — and ensuing protests have heightened awareness and scrutiny of police misconduct — members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization went on strike and included demands to divert funding from policing in their platform.
A review of the controversial history of law enforcement on campus shows this is not the first time student activists have gone toe to toe with the University’s administration over policing. Students are now bringing forward similar anti-policing measures more than 30 years after the University deputized officers.
“It’s considered normal now for there to be basically a police force on campus,” Steingraber said. “It didn’t used to be that way.”
Creating the police force
In 1986, public safety officers carried flashlights, clipboards and radios, patrolling campus in shifts as small as three for a University with more than 30,000 students. Their only power was to make a “citizen’s arrest” if they saw someone committing a felony. In dangerous situations, the officers were to call the Ann Arbor Police Department. Public Safety Officer Vickie Juopperi told The Daily in August 1986 that people would generally comply more with deputized public safety officers who had the power to make real arrests.
“I think that if they knew we have authority, that would tend to put a lid on things easier,” Juopperi said.
Jack Weidenbach, former University director of business operations whose office oversaw campus security, opposed deputization in 1986, as did Regent Deane Baker, a Republican who was first elected to the body in 1972 and served for 24 years.
“I don’t think the University should be in the business of operating a police force,” Baker said in an article published in The Daily in 1986.
During this period, University administrators became increasingly agitated by student activists interrupting appearances from high-profile speakers such as Vice President George H.W. Bush, United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and Attorney General Edwin Meese in protest of the Reagan administration. The Michigan Student Assembly — a precursor to Central Student Government — and Rackham Student Government passed resolutions against the University inviting Bush to campus.
In response, then University President Harold Shapiro pushed back against a restriction on the types of ideas considered on campus “because of prejudice or political and intellectual authoritarianism.”
At the May 1988 Regents meeting, Baker recommended the University’s Civil Liberties Board study the issue of free speech and offer a recommendation.
“The time has come to regain control of this campus so that the University might once again function as a place of autonomy, civility and scholarly pursuit,” Baker said.
After a recommendation from the CLB, the Board of Regents passed a five-part policy on the “disruption of student activities” in July 1988 to “advance freedom of speech and artistic expression.” The policy’s fourth part authorized Heatley and Pifer, the University’s top public safety officers, to make arrests but did not mean the public safety officers would be armed.
“Guns in the hands of University personnel have no place in campus disputes, as experience shows,” the policy reads. “We do not want our people using guns.”
Heatley and Pifer saw their first action as deputized officers at Duderstadt’s inauguration, where four students were arrested, along with Daily staffers Steingraber, Rollins, Southworth and Michael Fischer. The day of the ceremony, Ann Arbor Police Sergeant Norm Melby told The Daily only the most active protesters were arrested that day.
“One officer can only make one arrest in some instances,” Melby said. “And sometimes that means the person who was most frequently warned to discontinue their activities.”
Meanwhile, the Michigan House of Representatives debated a bill allowing state universities to appoint their own deputized campus security officers who report to their Regents and the state. At the time, Heatley and Pifer were only authorized by the Washtenaw County Sheriff. David Cahill, an aide to Ann Arbor Rep. Perry Bullard, told The Daily in September 1988 that Bullard opposed the bill.
“He doesn’t want Harold Shapiro or (interim University President Robben) Fleming or whoever to have their own political police force to use against protesters,” Cahill said.
Supporters of the bill, including Democratic Regent Thomas Roach, said the Ann Arbor Police Department was too understaffed to adequately help the University manage crime on campus.
“There’s nothing like a police presence to deter criminal activity,” Roach said in the Daily article.
No cops, no guns, no code
In June 1990, the Board of Regents proposed a full campus police force of 24 deputized officers. Some of the discussion focused on whether the force would improve campus safety, but the most contentious issue was the University’s relationship with the city of Ann Arbor. University officials concluded that the nearly half a million dollars spent on seven AAPD patrol officers and two detectives was unreasonably high given slow response times. City officials disputed that the response time was slow and said the University “receives more from the AAPD than it pays for.”
The vote to expand the University police force passed 6-1, leading to a new wave of activism when students returned to campus in the fall. A September 1990 column in The Daily called the June vote “another traditional summer move,” undertaken while most students were at home and unable to attend Regents meetings.
In another September 1990 Daily op-ed, Jennifer Van Valey, president of Michigan Student Assembly, urged students to protest the deputization. She wrote that the University was uninterested in stopping protests about issues unrelated to the institution, like foreign policy and reproductive rights, but that it needed control when protests focused on the “deficiencies” of the University.
“Through an analysis of the University’s history of pushing for a campus police force, it becomes clear that the very real problem of safety on campus is being used opportunistically to dupe students into supporting their own repression,” Van Valey said. “It is also clear that, ironically, the only way to stop the administration is through student mobilization and protest — the very thing the administration instituted the force to prevent.”
Dozens of students soon took up Van Valey’s call to action, marching to Duderstadt’s office to negotiate deputization on Nov. 14, 1990. Duderstadt was not there that day, so the group, Students for a Safer Campus, occupied the office overnight.
Walt Harrison, executive director of university relations, told students the administration had no plans to negotiate on deputization and called the sit-in “political theater.”
On Regents’ Plaza outside the administration building, students held a candlelight vigil at 10 p.m. to support those inside the president’s office.
“To the beat of a drum and the flash of office lights which were flicked on and off by students inside, approximately 100 students held candles and chanted, ‘No guns, no cops, no code,’” The Daily account reads.
After more than 24 hours in Duderstadt’s office, Henry Johnson, vice president for community relations, met with the students. They demanded the University halt the deputization and arming the police force and take students’ voices into account.
“The University must immediately institute a policy-making body that ensures students will play a representative and powerful role in the decisions that affect their lives,” one demand read.
Johnson offered a small number of students from the group a chance to meet with administrators after Thanksgiving. The group denied the offer and Johnson went to a back office to meet with Heatley, the chief of the Ann Arbor Police Department and other administrators. Heatley announced everyone remaining in the building after five minutes would be arrested. Jeff Hinte was among the 16 students who stayed and awaited arrest.
“We have the rights of sea slugs with social security numbers,” Hinte said at the time.
Police released the students once outside the building and issued warrants for criminal trespassing. During a break at the Regent’s meeting in November 1990, Duderstadt said the sit-in was “political opportunism” with Michigan Student Assembly elections on the same day.
“The students protesting are not representative of the community,” Duderstadt said. “You can’t let their political agenda dictate.”
In January 1992, the Department of Public Safety purchased 29 new 9-millimeter pistols, along with 20 cases of ammunition and 20 magazines. Harrison said the increase in the officers’ budget meant the University was no longer dependent on the AAPD.
Despite student protests, by September 1993, the University had guns, cops and a code — the Student Statement of Rights and Responsibilities governing student behavior.
In a column printed in The Daily that month, Amitava Mazumdar wrote he wasn’t proud of his one-time opposition to deputization, saying he’d bought into the “faddish fascists-in-Fleming mentality.”
“But any sort of intellectual honesty requires that facts be examined objectively, not twisted or reconstructed to match (generally leftist) ideological preconceptions,” Mazumdar wrote. “… The predictions of ineffectiveness, costliness and repressiveness have so far proven false.”
“Activism has to go on for a long time”
Last month, striking GEO graduate students listed several anti-policing demands, including disarmament, a 50 percent reduction in the DPSS budget and cutting ties with AAPD and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Rackham student Alejo Stark, who has been involved in GEO since 2013, said security and safety often get conflated.
“We cannot have a safe campus with police on campus,” Stark said. “It’s also important to be clear on how campus police emerged. We have really just naturalized the fact that the University of Michigan spends $12 million on police every year.”
The University’s budget for the Department of Public Safety and Security for fiscal year 2020-21 totaled nearly $12.4 million dollars, a decrease of $124,728 from the year prior.
The University now has 450 officers in DPSS across the three campuses, according to DPSS Executive Director Eddie Washington. The vast majority of DPSS branches do not carry weapons, Washington said, adding that only about 18 percent of DPSS officers are armed police officers. The other DPSS staff include security officers, dispatchers, parking enforcement officers and support staff, all of whom are unarmed.
He told The Daily that DPSS wants to be sure the response to high-level incidents such as interpersonal and domestic violence is “commensurate with the risk.”
“If a weapon has been reported and someone has been assaulted, we tend to send officers there that have the ability to use the least amount of force necessary, but also be in a position to defend themselves and whoever’s been harmed,” Washington said.
According to records obtained by The Daily, DPSS fired a weapon just once from Aug. 2018 to Aug. 2020, which was aimed at a deer that was wounded after crashing into a car.
Washington and Robert Neumann, chief of the University of Michigan Police Department, said the University was the last in the state and the Big Ten to deploy in-house police officers. Washington said he has resisted arming officers who are not sworn in.
“The police component is essential to bring certain comfort for certain communities, but it also brings a chilling effect to others and we just feel like we can accomplish much of what we need to (by) having a blended model,” Washington said.
University President Mark Schlissel did not directly answer whether the University is looking into disarming DPSS and reallocating its funding in an interview with The Daily on Thursday. He recently announced a task force to look into the issue of campus policing.
Heather Young, communications director for DPSS, told The Daily in an email that DPSS has worked with Ann Arbor police to close roads for demonstrators to march safety at more than 30 protests in the last two months.
Schlissel said he knows for many people, seeing a police officer they think has a weapon is “terrifying.”
“And not because of anything that police officer did, but because of that person’s life experiences, and the experiences that people they know and identify with that have engaged with police,” Schlissel said. “I’ve not had those experiences personally, but I’m privileged in many ways.”
Police officers monitoring students is still a contentious point among students. After the University announced its plan to have law enforcement officers work with student ambassadors to enforce adherence to social distancing guidelines around campus, organizations representing students of color criticized the Michigan Ambassadors program, saying it neglected potential harm to vulnerable communities.
In an op-ed, members of the Black Student Union, the United Asian American Organizations Executive Board, La Casa and the Arab Student Association E-Board called for an end to the policy.
“Michigan Ambassadors program canvassing teams rely on AAPD and DPSS, which build upon a historical and current legacy of police harming communities of color, despite President Schlissel’s claims that the Michigan Ambassadors program utilizes peer-to-peer accountability ‘to reduce the need for law enforcement,’” they wrote in the op-ed.
The University later discontinued the Michigan Ambassadors program entirely.
Steingraber said students need to carry on the tradition of activism long after they graduate.
“Student activism is almost always really smart and really provides a framework for how to think about local issues, but the leaders of campus activist movements then graduate and move on,” Steingraber said. “Activism has to go on for a long time.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly named the Department of Public Safety as the Division of Public Safety. This article has also been updated to clarify the position of Robert Neumann, who is chief of the University of Michigan Police Department.
Daily Staff Reporter Calder Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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