The warnings started from day one. Since I set out on this new adventure as Chief of the UW-Madison Police Department last January, nearly everyone I have met here on campus has issued me the same warning thinly disguised as advice: “Just wait until the fall!” Yet even as the words were spoken, there was a twinkle in the eye of their issuer and a flash of energy borne of eager anticipation that belied the dire warning. The truth is that this is what we have been waiting for all summer. It’s why we are here and why we do the work we do. The fall semester is an annual rite of passage that brings with it challenge, possibility, and hope.
Fall has always been my favorite time of year. When I was a student here, fall meant the start of another volleyball season and the opportunity to strive to be better – as a player, as a student, as a person – than the year before. And while each new academic year brought new challenges, it also brought new friends, new resources, and cumulative knowledge. Now, as I head into my first fall semester at the helm of the UWPD, I welcome the opportunities that we have as a department and as guardians of this campus community to be better, to engage existing and new campus partners to help define and fulfill our mission, and to further build upon UWPD’s solid foundation of problem-oriented community policing.
This does not mean that I do not heed the warnings of those who have been serving our campus community as faculty, staff, or administrators, for many seasons. I understand that with the start of another academic year comes a more demanding pace and the various challenges that a thriving and increasingly more diverse campus community can present. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face at this particular time as a campus community – a challenge currently facing every campus community – is how we will choose to respond to open debate and critique inherent in the pursuit of knowledge.
Recent events in Charlottesville, Berkeley, Boston, Phoenix, and our own blemished history offer us lessons as well as an opportunity to do better – to be better. UW-Madison leadership has been consistent and clear in our message. Our message unequivocally denounces the use of violence in the service of racist and anti-Semitic ideology and groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis. Our message emphasizes the value of diversity and a firm belief that the pursuit of knowledge is best served when it includes diversity of thought, experience, and being. Our message reinforces our commitment to peaceful free expression and exchange of differing viewpoints, even those that seemingly or inherently violate the values for which this campus stands. Our message seeks to unite this campus around a common purpose – that of listening, learning, and growing not despite our many differences but because of them.
As your Chief, I understand the vital role that the UWPD plays in the facilitation of open debate and the free exchange of ideas. Indeed I and all UWPD officers have sworn an oath to uphold these and other constitutional principles. While some may wish for police to use our authority and ability to exercise various levels of force to obstruct or entirely shut down any expression of ideologies espousing hate, the role of police in a free society demands professional neutrality. Regardless of our personally held beliefs or opinions, as peacekeepers charged with the responsibility to safely facilitate expressions of the First Amendment, there is only one side on which police can and should choose to be: on the side of peace.
To this end, the UWPD is committed to collaborating with campus partners like the Division of Student Life, Chief Diversity Officer, Director of Community Relations, Registered Student Organizations, and others to successfully facilitate peaceful demonstrations and safely provide for the expression of First Amendment rights. Voluntary compliance with the guidelines for protests and demonstrations that we have established and continue to assess is always our primary objective. As such, the UWPD philosophy, training, planning and approach to crowd management emphasizes the importance of communication before, during, and following these events. We will only employ the minimum level of intervention necessary to address actions that threaten the safety of our community members or of our campus, and only when voluntary compliance options have been exhausted or are not an option under the circumstances. The UWPD will research and evaluate potential campus speakers and events that raise safety concerns to determine whether or not a significant likelihood for violence is associated, and make recommendations to campus administrators up to and including the Chancellor as to whether or not an event can safely take place here on campus and if so what steps need to be taken to protect our community.
Peaceful protest has been a part of our campus culture for more than half a century. And historically, the role of police in campus protests and demonstrations here and across the country has admittedly been fraught with challenges. But in every challenge lies possibility. As summer comes to a close and we welcome new and returning students this fall, I look forward to all the possibilities we have before us to engage in open debate and conversation. While there is always more work to be done, we are a department and a campus committed to creating a community where everyone feels safe and has the ability to thrive. It is my hope that together we will meet these many challenges and possibilities with patience and with peace.
“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.