In light of nationwide calls to defund or reform police departments, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Young Democratic Socialists of America called for the defunding of campus police in a myUMBC post. While the post’s comment section reveals differing opinions, sophomore music composition major, chair of the YDSA and author of the post Sonia Borenstein believes that UMBC Police should be disbanded and their funding redistributed to “student aid, or staff aid or faculty aid. You know. Something that would instead help someone for once.”
Part of the reason Borenstein and YDSA call for the disbanding of UMBC Police is their general view that campus police do not perform their duties. In the post, Borenstein wrote: “The UMBC PD mostly does their work in ticketing students. Not giving a damn about the crimes on campus.”
She explained further that most crime calls go to the Baltimore County Police Department, their station located just outside Hilltop Circle. If UMBC Police were disbanded, Borenstein stated that the handling of crime at UMBC would not change much.
“The slack could simply be picked up by the county police who handle 50% of on campus calls anyways,” said Borenstein.
Aside from depending on county police to handle campus issues if the campus police were defunded, Borenstein described ways to handle crime at UMBC without involving police.
“[The YDSA] offers a different solution: recognize that crime occurs as a systemic phenomenon, and address it by expanding existing counseling services, as well as potentially reinvesting in the local community, so as to reduce the potential needs of those that allow for property crime,” said Borenstein.
Another reason driving Borenstein’s and YDSA’s call for the defunding of campus police is their belief that the department does not properly handle white supremacy groups and actions on-campus.
“Since 2016, there’s been an increased white supremacist presence showing itself on campus, including Identity Europa, an explicitly Neo-Nazi group,” said Borenstein. “While I contacted campus police about this, I have never received follow-up from them. In 2019, a member of our organization was assaulted by a white nationalist Trump-supporting student when we were protesting Melania Trump.”
The Retriever covered the YDSA’s protest and the assault, 2020 UMBC graduate and then YDSA president Nate Stewart stating that a counter-protester “decked out in Trump gear” punched a protester among his group. Borenstein also referenced swastikas being drawn in residence halls and hateful comments written on the newspaper’s myUMBC page.
While previously acknowledging the hate crimes, UMBC Chief of Police Paul Dillon alleges that the assault at the Melania Trump protest was staged.
“We had officers watching the protesters, keeping them safe,” said Dillon. “They made up a story that somebody with a MAGA hat came up to them and punched them in the face, but we had eyes on them the whole time. It just didn’t happen. Plain and simple.”
Dillon believes that YDSA’s calls for defunding UMBC Police and their reasoning for the call stems from the “nationwide talk of defunding or restructuring police departments in cases of police brutality and systemic racism.” However, Dillon believes the use of “defunding” by the YDSA is vague.
“What would [defunding] look like? [For instance], would the police budget be sliced by 20% or would we have to have less officers patrolling campus?”
If the campus police were completely abolished, Dillon listed various services the department could no longer provide on-campus. These services included taking criminal reports, a fingerprinting service and providing first aid.
While Dillon does not believe that campus police should be defunded or abolished, he acknowledged that there is always room for improvement.
“Once we stay stagnant and do the same things over and over we’re not improving, so we constantly have to take a look at ourselves. We recently just took a look at all our policies and procedures and modified them in order to better serve our community,” Dillon stated.
Borenstein also mentioned Speakout To Oppose Predators and their Protectors UMBC (STOPP UMBC), an organization that formed as a result of students claiming that UMBC and campus police mishandled their sexual assault cases. STOPP UMBC pushed for the firing of Dillon, the suspension of two Title IX Officers and the suspension of UMBC’s former baseball coach. Borenstein used the organization to support YDSA’s claim that UMBC Police is incompetent and stated that YDSA is looking to “further their goals in its future.”
Dillon stated that he had no further knowledge of the group’s goals or any demonstrations by them besides seeing “some fliers on campus a few years ago promoting [STOPP UMBC].”
Borenstein encouraged all students to stay informed and continuously expand their political knowledge and involvement.
“As a democratic socialist organization, we are fighting for racial, gender, ecological, social and economic justice,” she stated.
Dillon reminded students that campus police are always open for comments or suggestions.
“We serve the people. We’re tax-funded and we need to listen to our constituents on how they think we can do a better job and what we can do differently,” said Dillon. “I’d be more than happy to sit down with anybody from that organization to talk about policing and their ideas, I’m open to that at any time.”