Tuesday night, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) passed a vote of no confidence in the University of Wisconsin Police Department in a 9-5 vote.
The vote, which is largely symbolic, comes in the wake of an ASM meeting last week when members criticized the UWPD’s presence at protests this summer, in addition to the department’s failure to fully adopt a list of reforms--including those outlined by #8cantwaitstandards.
In response, Grant Allocation Chair Samuel Jorudd and several other members of ASM — including Chairman Mathew Mitnick — organized a vote of no confidence to communicate the organization’s disapproval of the UWPD’s policy decisions.
Following the meeting, Chairman Mitnick congratulated his fellow council members for their decision to publicly voice their distrust of the UWPD.
“I am so proud to see my colleagues on the student council stand up for justice with the outcome of this vote,” Mitnick said in a press release. “No longer will student voices be silenced.”
Prior to the vote, several dozen members of the public voiced their opinion on the vote of no confidence, with a majority, including City Council Alderman Max Prestigacomo, speaking in favor of the action.
“I think it's shameful that I hear privileged people here tonight defending an institution they are the least affected by,” Prestigacomo said.” I’d ask those [who oppose the vote] to ask themselves if they have ever been impacted by police. A no confidence vote tonight is neither disrespectful nor radical, what's radical is for police departments like the UWPD to continue to ignore the demands of black and brown community members.”
Tarah Stangler, a member of the UW’s Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) coalition, who have previously organized several student protests, also spoke in favor of the vote of no confidence.
“This is not the first time community members have talked with the UWPD about adopting reforms. A vote of no confidence is the only viable way we as students can force the department to make change. We cannot wait for someone to get killed by the UWPD before we see change,” Stangler said.
UWPD Police Chief Kristen Roman was barred from participating in debate with members during the meeting, despite having met with ASM previously and committing to continued cooperation with the organization in a Sept. 22 blog post.
Roman stated her disapproval with the organization’s decision to prevent her from speaking with members during the meeting.
“I am disappointed. Not in the questions themselves, or the specific requests for change, but for not being given the opportunity to engage in a full process prior to this vote. A process in which we work together in constructive and meaningful ways. A vote that cuts to the chase and bypasses any opportunity to engage — to share information — to listen, to learn, to clarify, to contextualize — undermines trust-building. I believe my demonstrated willingness to engage openly and honestly and UWPD’s overall service record has, at a minimum, earned us that opportunity,” Roman said in a statement after the vote.
This sentiment was echoed earlier in the night by former chairperson Laura Downer who similarly voiced her displeasure with the exclusion of Roman from debate
“I think this is a rash decision to take this vote tonight,” Downer said. “If we want more communication with UWPD, why would we not let them speak? I'm dismayed by how this has happened so far."
Members also voiced concerns that a vote of no confidence would erode the relationship the council presently has with the UWPD and counterintuitively hinder future attempts to implement change within the department.
“We will go so many steps backwards with our relationship with the UWPD should this council make a vote of no confidence” said former ASM member Amol Goyal. “This vote of no confidence paints a false image of the UWPD as a whole. You as ASM leaders have numerous opportunities to work with UWPD and I think you would value those changes brought about by continued cooperation.”
Prior to the meeting, Chancellor Rebecca Blank spoke in defense of the UWPD’s attention to recent concerns about policing.
“Our community has a wide range of public safety needs that need to be and are met by UWPD,” she said in a statement. “I recognize and support community efforts to protest long-standing injustices within law enforcement and the legal system, especially as it relates to the Black community. But I believe UWPD has been responsive to this moment.”