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Abolition Caucus of GEO, University of Michigan

The Struggle for a “Safe and Just” Campus

On Labor Day 2020, student-workers at the University of Michigan went on strike for “a safe and just campus.” The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) Local 3550, the union of graduate students at the University of Michigan, demanded to both defund and demilitarize campus police and cut university ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The strike kicked off during the COVID-19 pandemic and followed the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It demanded a safer working environment, which meant reducing the risk of COVID-19 and also creating a cop-free campus. Undergraduate students also pushed for this abolitionist vision. In the wake of the strike, the Students of Color Liberation Front successfully ended the “Ambassadors Program,” then-president Mark Schlissel’s misguided attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 by sending patrol groups composed of campus police officers and undergraduate students to enforce social distancing rules.

Each year, the University of Michigan spends tens of millions of dollars on policing, while students and staff struggle with rising rents, sexual harassment, inadequate health insurance, and being overworked in an increasingly unaffordable Ann Arbor. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these injustices, bringing to the fore the many pre-existing health disparities that fall along lines of race and class and are often exacerbated by police. So when GEO called for better public health measures for workers this also involved getting the cops off campus.

As we work to dismantle policing, we must remember that this bloated university police force is relatively new. Below, we describe the origins of campus police, and analyze the daily activities of UMich campus police between 2001 and 2022.

Our analysis shows that this multi-million dollar police force doesn’t keep us “safe.” Rather, its role is to protect property, to criminalize drug and alcohol use, and to act on behalf of other police departments off campus. Notably, none of these issues is unique to UMich police. Historical research has shown that police forces have always existed to protect property over people, and our campus police are simply no different.

GEO continues to fight for the campus we envisioned in 2020. We call for a sustained process of creative aggression that abolishes police and re-directs police funding into the creation of systems that affirm and support the student body and campus community.

Origins of the University of Michigan Police

The Division of Public Safety and Security, which houses campus police today, was established in 2012. Apart from what amounted to a handful of security guards, the University did not have any police presence for the first 100 years of its existence. In the 1940s, the Board of Regents began to contract with the Ann Arbor Police Department for policing services, in addition to its private security guards. As late as 1979, only ten Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) officers were stationed on campus.

This changed in 1990, when the Board of Regents amended university rules to create a campus police force with armed personnel who were legally able to make arrests. The administration hoped the police would crack down on increasingly radical campus organizing, especially by anti-racist student groups. On November 15, the Regents voted to establish this police force, against fierce opposition from many students and staff. By the end of that day, 16 people had been arrested for occupying a campus building in protest; the next day, one thousand protestors descended upon the Student Union and marched in the streets of Ann Arbor.

But the administration got their way, and currently campus police at the University of Michigan gets more than $30 million per year in funding. This police budget has consistently increased in the past two decades while lecturers and other workers in the university are getting squeezed.

What does this multi-million dollar police force actually do in and around campus?

The Daily Activities of University of Michigan Police

One way to address this question is to analyze the logs of police activity and consider the kinds of arrests that they make.

What are the most common activities of the UMich police?

We have obtained the daily logs of UMich police activities between January 2001 and July 2022 as posted on their website. Our analysis shows that most police activity concerns property (27,154 logs), traffic (18,692 logs) and drug/alcohol (10,157 logs) violations. In stark contrast to the university’s “crime alert” emails – which induce collective panic and create the sense that the police are there to keep us “safe” from violence – the majority of police activity has nothing to do with responding to any kind of violence. The bar graph below demonstrates these trends. “Sex offense” and “assault/battery” make up only a tiny portion of total police activity.

Number of police log entries as a function of activity type between 2001-2022.

What are “hot spots” of UMich police activity?

Most police activity takes place within a 2-mile radius of the campus police station (an area that contains much of Ann Arbor). But there are two hotspots of activity where police direct most of their attention: the Michigan Stadium and the University hospitals. At the stadium, police enforce traffic and drug rules during sports events. In the hospitals, they criminalize patients. Oftentimes medical staff or hospital security will call the police on patients, who will then be arrested for things such as possession of marijuana. To read more about hospital-carceral connection, see the case study below.

An encounter with the police, even on a minor offense such as a traffic violation, can result in criminalization, arrest, or deportation – often because UMich campus police act on warrants and information obtained from other police forces. We have noted many cases of UMich police collaborating with other police departments. This means that even if police stay close to campus, they still act on behalf of a broader range of police departments and law enforcement agencies. To read more about how campus police extend the reach of local police and play nice with ICE, see case study below.

The daily logs also show that police are often involved in situations that they are ill-equipped to handle. These include suicide attempts and mental health crises, as well as cases of family and domestic conflict. In these situations, police presence can make the situation worse, which underscores the importance of creating a non-police, anti-carceral response to harms, such as what is being developed here in our county by the Coalition for Re-envisioning our safety. See also our case study on policing and mental health.

Taken together, these data give a sense of the many harms caused by UMich police since 2001. But these data surely underestimate the damages. Behind these data are untold stories of harms to many individuals, and long-term consequences of criminalization and incarceration that are not captured in our graphs or numbers. Moreover, the university has not shared any demographic data related to their activity so we currently cannot analyze these trends with respect to race and gender.

How does UMich police activity change over time?

Fortunately, campus police activity appears to have decreased over the years. The bar graph below shows that looking at the total number of log calls has decreased over time. The university does not explain why there is such an increase in traffic stops in the years 2015-2017, but programs such as the “targeted traffic enforcement campaign” often result in updates of police activity and arrests.

Bar graph showing number of police log entries across years.
Number of police log entries across years.

Police activity also changes over the course of a given year. Much like the academic year, it increases during the Fall and Winter semesters and it decreases during the summer months.

How do UMich police arrests change over time?

We can infer whether an arrest has taken place by seeing whether the word “arrested” occurs in the “narrative” field for each UMich police log entry. Here are the percentages of police logs that involve arrests, by year:

Bar graph showing percent of police activity that involves arrests, across years.
Percent of police activity that involves arrests, across years.

Like police activity, arrests have also dropped in recent years. Overall, we find that about 7% of police log entries between 2001-2022 (excluding fire/ambulance entries) involve an arrest. This is good news: we want the police to have less contact with people, not more. As Mariame Kaba and other abolitionists have long argued, short of abolishing policing altogether, we have to reduce “the contact that cops have with people. That’s the only way to reduce the violence of policing.” The 2018 American Public Health Association Policy Statement also unequivocally makes this recommendation.

As abolitionists, this is what we want. And yet we ask: why does their budget keep growing? What if we tried redirecting some of those funds to other alternatives?

We can further ask: what kinds of police activity are most likely to result in arrest? The graph below breaks arrests down by police activity category.

Bar graph showing percentage of police activity that involves arrests, broken down by police activity type.
Percentage of police activity between 2001-2022 that involves arrests, broken down by police activity type. Absolute numbers of arrests shown in parentheses.

Police activity in the categories of “drug/alcohol,” “disorderly,” “traffic,” and “cop collaboration” make up the largest percentage of total arrests. Roughly a third of all arrests result from “drug/alcohol” policing.

Case Studies

There is a long history of criminalization of people seeking access to medical care. Medical providers have historically collaborated with police and other state agencies to criminalize or civilly commit disabled people, people with unmet mental health and/or housing needs, Black, Indigenous, queer and trans people, and migrants. For many groups who are marginalized, the places we go to seek care function as routine sites of surveillance, policing, punishment and control. Police presence and activity in hospitals has an extremely harmful impact on health outcomes for patients; they violate patient-provider confidentiality and trust; and deter patients from seeking out necessary care out of fear of surveillance or persecution by police, as well as child/family welfare and immigration authorities.

It is inexcusable for UMich police to be engaging in what are more than likely warrantless searches of patient property and arresting them for drug possession, in violation of medical ethics, and public health and harm reduction principles which recommend decriminalizing drug use and possession. Studies have shown that the rates at which police are called on Black patients in Michigan Medicine is twice that of white patients. We also know from the literature that police are more likely to restrain Black patients in the emergency room and use force on them.

Not only does criminalization actively harm people seeking care, but people who are prosecuted, incarcerated, detained or deported after criminalization that occurs through access to medical care are exposed to further trauma, violence, and suffer adverse health outcomes and premature death, in carceral facilities. Practices include, but are not limited to, shackling pregnant people during labor and delivery, use of restraints, non-consensual forced feeding, inadequate access to care and treatment, and neglect and disregard of health care needs or illness or injuries. Even if patients are not incarcerated, we know the very presence of police in hospitals adversely affects the care they receive, and Michigan Medicine should commit to prioritizing the care of their patients over their policing and punishment.

In hospitals we can also detect collaboration between the hospital security and external police forces. In the example below from 2002, we see that hospital security “assisted AAPD in fingerprinting a patient.” Since this is recorded in UMich police logs, it’s reasonable to infer that UMich police were involved too; thus, this is a three-way collaboration between the hospital’s security agents, AAPD, and UMich police.

Just to give one example, the narrative police log that states “Marijuana was found in patient property” came up 128 times in 2022 alone.

It is well-documented that it’s not just hospital security that call and collaborate with police, but also the hospital’s medical staff. We see this in the following examples, where police report being called on by ER staff, for example, or getting information about hospital patients from the medical staff:

Assist other agency
2002-12-28 00:24:37.0
type: cop collab
id: 23620007
narrative: I received a call from Matt of ER who stated there was an assault victim in PEDS room [redacted]. I dispatched the HE11 officer to respond. A Police report has been filed with Washtenaw County,and DPS was contacted.

Assist other agency
2002-04-06 04:35:01.0
type: cop collab
id: 20960114
narrative: Passed on information regarding an assault victim in the ER.

Assist other agency
2002-11-22 11:10:55.0
type: cop collab
id: 23260283<
narrative: Caller reports that a patient in the OR who was having surgery to remove glass from his shoulder, really had bullet fragments removed... Ann Arbor Police notified.

Assist other agency
2002-08-26 21:41:46.0
type: cop collab
id: 22380594
narrative: The caller reported that they removed bullet fragments from a gun shot victim in the main OR. The caller is requesting someone to pick up the bullet. The bullet was retrieved and placed into evidence. The case is under investigation by MSP.

Assist other agency
2002-12-11 13:45:18.0
type: cop collab
id: 23450352
narrative: Staff called requesting an officer for a patient of a gun shot wound... Belleville Police notified.

2021-04-11 20:12:00.0
type: drug/alcohol
id: 2100037411
narrative: Marijuana found in patient property.

2021-02-22 07:32:00.0
type: drug/alcohol
id: 2100019897
narrative: A suspected illegal narcotic was found in a patient ' s property.
status: CASE FOLDER #2190300558 - CLOSED AS OF 06/10/2021

2020-02-17 08:35:00.0
type: assault/battery
id: 2000017445
narrative: An employee reported a suspected domestic situation. Upon investigation, it was found that no assault occurred.

2018-01-29 19:54:00.0
type: drug/alcohol
id: 1800009193
narrative: Suspected pills not prescribed to a patient were confiscated from his belongings. Determined drugs were not a controlled substance and were processed for destruction.

Other cases where police was called by medical staff include:

  • 2005-06-27 15:14:40.0, HEALTH CENTER, 4260 PLYMOUTH Disorder person(s),Staff advised there is a irate female at the Adult medicine desk who is demanding to speak with a nurse.
  • 2005-04-30 17:25:27.0, U HOSPITAL EMERGENCY ROOM, 1500 EAST MEDICAL CENTER: Incident Report, Violation of controlled substances,Suspected baggie of marijuana located by a nurse from a patient.
  • 2013-06-24 15:00:22.0, SPINE CLINIC-SUITE 100/200 **,325 EISENHOWER: Disorder person(s), Report of an irate patient. Staff worked with the patient and resolved the situation.
  • Police are often involved in situations concerning health (such as suicide attempts), but these are situations that require a non-police response. We have found several troubling cases by searching through the UMich police logs in recent years. Here are some examples:

    Much traffic-related activity off campus police is actually “off campus,” and often takes the form of giving traffic citations on Washtenaw avenue near the US-23 ramp (from/towards Ypsilanti). Sometimes during traffic stops UMich police make arrests due to outstanding warrants. And they also routinely cooperate with other police departments, such as the Washtenaw Sheriff's office and the Ypsilanti Police Department, for example, by sending out their K-9 units far off campus.

    We also know that so called “campus” police collaborates with ICE. For example, on July 24, 2006 at the Biomedical Sciences Research Building (109 Zina Pitcher Pl) the police log states: “Immigration services is currently at the hospital requesting an officer for pickup of a employee at the building. Immigration took one into custody. “ And on November 28 th 2011 the UMich police log reports: “A subject was arrested on an immigration detainer. He was taken to jail.” These are just some of the cases that we have been able to find in their own logs, but it is likely that there are many more.

    Exploring Campus Police Activity

    The map below visualizes the University of Michigan’s police log across space and time.

    Above the map, you can select different years (you can pick one or toggle multiple years) as well as select different kinds of police activity through the aforementioned categories (such as property, traffic, or drug/alcohol). You can also toggle a heatmap that lets you quickly visualize the range of operations of campus police.

    As expected, most activity is clustered around the University Hospital area and near the stadium.

    You can explore how the activity varies across years, as well as by the areas of campus and the city.

    We hope that this interactive map will help illuminate the real activity of campus police and help dispel the myth that police keep everyone “safe” in the workplace. Here are some questions you might ask yourself:

    Note: the data displayed here are incomplete. The map does not show the activities of police forces that collaborate with UM police, such as ICE or AAPD. The City of Ann Arbor has denied our FOIA request for similar data on AAPD’s activities, and the city administrator, Milton Dohoney, subsequently denied our appeal (see Documents section below). The data are also incomplete with respect to UM police’s activities. Critical information is missing, including the race of the people arrested by UM police during each incident, which the DPSS website does not make available. We know these data exist because the Michigan State Police publishes aggregated statistics about arrests made by UM police broken down by “race.” UM has denied our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for these data, and the University President’s office has rejected our appeal of that decision. In a letter dated September 15, 2022, the Office of the President wrote that “the University is not required to make a compilation, summary or report of information, nor create a new public record, in order to respond to your request,” and pointed us to the existing DPSS website which doesn’t contain the information we have requested.

    Policing activity


    Documents related to our (so far unsuccessful) efforts to obtain more data about the activities of University of Michigan Police and Ann Arbor Police. Documents pertaining to University of Michigan DPSS: