From April 25-27, Ann Arbor hosted the Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) Conference, which is organized annually by the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing at Arizona State University and features a bevy of police officers, policing technology companies and crime researchers and consultants for an annual conference.
The conference was hosted jointly by the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, the Ann Arbor Police Department and the University of Michigan Police Department, which is part of the Division of Public Safety and Security (DPSS). The POP Conference embodies, promotes and attempts to legitimize the existential and everyday threats that police pose to all of us across the University’s campus, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.
Advocates of Problem-Oriented Policing contend that police are essential to solving homelessness, mental health crises, racially-motivated violence, intimate partner violence and other social ills — even as policing has contributed to the very problems it purports to solve. While residents of Ann Arbor often like to imagine the city as a liberal refuge from problems that only happen in “other” places, we only have to look back to 2014 in Ann Arbor to see how police officers armed with deadly weapons and protected by qualified immunity are actively harmful to our community. On Nov. 10, 2014, AAPD Officer David Ried shot and killed Ann Arbor resident Aura Rosser in her own home. The police response to Rosser’s boyfriend’s 911 call seeking support for Rosser — a Black woman experiencing a mental health crisis — ended in her death instead. Ried was never charged for her killing, and was later promoted to sergeant by the AAPD. John Seto, AAPD chief at the time, was hired as U-M’s Director of Housing Security, where he remains to this day.
As abolitionists, we know that viable alternatives to policing already exist. Rather than rebrand the same old police reforms, we believe in envisioning an unarmed, non-police emergency response in Ann Arbor, including the University’s campus. Homelessness, mental health crises and intimate partner violence are complex social issues that require supportive services that keep individuals safe, housed and fed. Policing offers none of these solutions. Rather than throwing armed police at complex societal problems, as this conference advocates, we need to fund real solutions that center on prevention and address root causes.
We were heartened to learn that on April 4, 2022, after significant community-based organizing and community feedback, the Ann Arbor City Council approved $3.5 million in funding to implement an unarmed response system. The Coalition for Re-Envisioning Our Safety (CROS) is an unarmed emergency response team that is dispatched to individuals in crisis, instead of the police. The Graduate Employees Organization endorsed the CROS plan because, as workers, students, neighbors and community members, we recognize the urgent need for an unarmed, non-police response to issues of public safety.
When it comes to campus safety, the University is trapped in an endless cycle of scandals and promises to do better. In fall 2020, GEO went on strike for a safe and just campus for all. The most controversial part of our strike centered on the disarticulation of “safety” from “security” by calling for a more robust COVID-19 response and by calling for the defunding of the DPSS — campus cops that do not keep students or workers safe. The strike ended with the University’s Advancing Public Safety Task Force that was, by many accounts, set up to fail.
The POP Conference featured panels like “Reducing Social Unrest,” “Responding to Mentally Ill Persons in Washtenaw County” and “Using Drones to Respond to Police Calls.” These panels point to WCSO, AAPD and DPSS’s rabid desire to prove themselves as progressive forces for good in the community. But how can these entities be considered a force for good given their history of repression and violence and their unwillingness to listen to community members?
WCSO repeatedly repressed organizing for tenants’ rights at Washtenaw County’s only public housing projects, Sycamore Green, throughout the summer of 2020. AAPD ruled Rosser’s killing “justifiable homicide” and promoted her killer, Ried, to sergeant. AAPD follows the orders of the Toll Brothers and William J. Lang Land Clearing, rather than honoring the demands and protecting the lives of forest protectors in northern Ann Arbor. DPSS repeatedly minimizes and belittles U-M resident advisers recounting their experiences of assault and stalking. And let’s not forget DPSS’s brazen attempt to chase down a pedestrian shoplifter by recklessly driving a DPSS vehicle across the crowded Diag, narrowly avoiding students and crashing into a lamppost. There are no amount of strategic problem-oriented policing panels that could change the fact that reforms can’t address these stories of egregious policing and police violence.
The AAPD has a budget of $31.4 million. As part of the U-M and Ann Arbor communities, we must ask ourselves a pivotal question: How is this money keeping us safe? How could that money be used to more meaningfully address the social problems of our community? Rather than spending the money on weapons that injure and kill, the harassment of the unhoused, the excessive punishment of minor violations through fines that disproportionately harm low-income folks and the many harmful consequences of policing broadly, how can we use our community’s resources to meet people’s needs and build a strong community with safety for all?
We see the simultaneous push for CROS and the existence of the POP Conference as fundamentally opposed to each other. How can Ann Arbor play host to a conference aimed at dreaming up new, expanded forms of policing and repression, while Ann Arbor residents, U-M students and workers are organizing to reduce the influence and power of the police? As abolitionists, we know that policing doesn’t work. Policing produces violence instead of dismantling or pre-empting it. We are firmly opposed to any expansion of armed, militarized police on our campus and in our broader community, and we uplift the efforts of local grassroots organizers to implement an unarmed, non-police emergency response for all.
GEO’s Abolition Caucus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.