Armed police officers will not accompany U-M ambassadors on patrols

Sunday, August 30, 2020 - 4:31pm

Student ambassadors patrol campus with a DPSS officer on August 25.

Student ambassadors patrol campus with a DPSS officer on August 25. Buy this photo
Courtesy of John Grieve

Sworn or armed police officers will not walk and ride around campus to regulate student behavior in an “adjusted” Michigan Ambassadors program, the University of Michigan confirmed on Twitter Sunday afternoon. The change came in response to community concerns,” according to the announcement.

The University’s initiative to enforce COVID-19-related regulations still includes some law enforcement involvement. The ambassadors are still not expected to “directly engage with large parties or situations where their personal safety may be at risk.” Addresses reported for repeat violations will be also dealt with by police, according to updated information on the University’s COVID-19 website

“As was the case prior to the Ambassador program, sworn officers from UMPD and AAPD will still respond to emergency calls or other situations not appropriate for Ambassador involvement,” the website reads.

The Michigan Ambassadors University students and staff who walk around campus reminding students to wear masks and maintain appropriate distance from one another are supposed to help students adhere to public health guidelines and manage off-campus student gatherings. Since its implementation on Aug. 20, the program has faced pushback both for its perceived lack of enforcement measures and for working with police officers. 

Now, unarmed DPSS security and administrative staff will be provided to support” the ambassadors, according to the website. 

Prior to this reversal, police officers from the Ann Arbor Police Department and the University’s Division of Public Safety & Security patrolled with the ambassadors. It is unclear if the officers who previously accompanied them were armed. The University’s Office of Public Affairs did not respond immediately to request for comment.

Critics said the program seemed tone-deaf after a summer of protests against police brutality.

Music, Theatre & Dance senior Jack Williams, the chaplain of Alpha Phi Alpha, a Black fraternity on campus, previously told The Daily he was worried about the program because AAPD has a history of over-policing Black fraternities.

“Let’s say we’re not having a party, and it’s just a small kickback, not a lot of people, but that the police will be called on us still,” Williams said. “That’s my concern, and I think a lot of Black students at Michigan share that same concern.”

The ambassadors are currently walking around campus and in off-campus residential neighborhoods every day from noon to midnight. After Sunday night, the ambassadors will work only Thursday through Saturday every week for the rest of the semester.

Students are required to wear face masks while on campus and to stay six feet apart from those outside their household. Gatherings indoors are limited to 10 people, while outdoor events are limited to 25. The University’s Twitter account garnered criticism for using a Drake meme to signal that gatherings of 25 people are allowed while discouraging larger groups.

All students were given the choice to opt into a voluntary address registry at the beginning of the year. When a concern is reported through the COVID-19 hotline, the ambassadors will answer the hotline and text or call those responsible. 

“Students can receive updates from the ambassador program if a concern about their address surfaces before midnight during operating days of the program, giving them the opportunity to address the situation without police involvement as the first response,” the website reads.

If a phone number is not available for that address, ambassadors will respond to the location of the reported concern.

Prior to the update, the University has said the hotline will directly forward to DPSS after midnight and on days when the ambassadors are off-duty. Now, “callers will have the option of leaving a message (for non-urgent concerns) or being transferred to dispatch services to request a law enforcement response,” the website reads.

Some community members have also disparaged the Michigan Ambassadors program for being too lenient in its initial outreach. 

In a previous interview, Public Health junior Bushra Hassan said she does not think the Michigan Ambassadors initiative will be effective without strong consequences for people who break the rules. 

“I don’t think they can effectively make people go home, because students can’t force students to do anything,” Hassan said.

According to the updated website, “repeat reports will be addressed with warning letters, referrals and citations from law enforcement for noise and public health violations, as appropriate.” Other University offices such as Fraternity and Sorority Life and the Dean of Students may also reach out. 

Depending on the severity of the situation, students could also face “removal from housing, removal from specific courses or activities, suspension from the University or expulsion,” the website reads.

Anyone who sees a violation of these policies can call the COVID-19 Concerns hotline at 734-647-3000.

Daily News Editor Claire Hao can be reached at cmhao@umich.edu.