Here’s what the proposed AU Police Department Oversight Board might look like

Outgoing SG President Eric Brock’s plan is currently under consideration by the University

Here’s what the proposed AU Police Department Oversight Board might look like

Editor's note: The subheading of this story has been corrected with proper spelling of Brock's name.

Outgoing Student Government President Eric Brock’s call to establish a community advisory board over the American University Police Department in February has made progress over the last month, including meetings with University leadership and more concrete plans in development. 

While the plan is still in its early stages, Fanta Aw, vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence at AU, confirmed that Brock’s idea is under consideration after being submitted to Douglas Kudravetz, the outgoing CFO and vice president who oversees AUPD. 

The next step, Aw said, is to develop a more detailed proposal. 

Brock’s plan for the Police Oversight Committee involves three steps. First, implementing a community oversight board over AUPD that would provide accountability and an avenue for community members to make their voices heard on the role of the department. After step two — accountability — is achieved, the majority of the board could vote on a possible step three: defunding the department.

The oversight board would be a transition, Brock said. 

“As a community, we come to the consensus that there needs to be community accountability for AUPD, which then establishes the community oversight for AUPD, then handles all the oversight, handles all the policy recommendations, it moves it out of HR into a more community-oriented format,” Brock said. “Then, that’s where it starts to come to the question — when you’re talking about policies, you’re also talking about defunding.”

According to Brock’s plan, the board would be made up of students, faculty and staff who can formally advocate for changes to AUPD. It would provide a space for the community to share their experiences with the department and to suggest changes and adaptations to benefit the campus as a whole. 

Ideally, Brock said he wants the board located high in AU’s power structure, rather than being relegated to a small, relatively powerless SG committee that he believes administrators could easily ignore. Both the University’s vice president of campus life and the chief financial officer need to sit on it, as their presence in a room with students and faculty will have more of a “bite,” he said. Brock hopes that decisions made in this context will be binding.

But what do oversight and defunding look like? Brock acknowledged that the words mean different things to everyone, but his vision involves moving money from what he terms a more “militarized” AUPD into student programs, the health center, counseling center and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Most importantly, he wants to see more investment in students.

However, he’s not interested in collecting signatures or campaigning on the issue again. Brock was elected to advocate, he said, and he’s not concerned about student buy-in, especially during a pandemic. Instead, if you’ve got an opinion, he encourages you to reach out directly.

“For far too long, we’ve waited for the University to take action that would protect Black students,” Brock said in an email to The Eagle. “I don’t think we need to campaign for buy-in. In fact, I think it’s long overdue. And the conversations in the Black community have reflected that for generations.”

It’s absolutely vital, he said, that affinity organizations, students of color and especially Black students are given the platform to oversee and advocate for change surrounding AUPD. Communities of color are disproportionately policed across the U.S., and protests against AUPD in recent years underline the issue. 

Brock isn’t the only student leader calling for the implementation of an oversight board. Christian Damiana, the ANC 3D07 commissioner and a junior in the School of Public Affairs, said he’s “absolutely” in favor of the idea.

“Even when things are going well, there’s still things that students will have opinions about and should be given an opportunity to share,” Damiana said. “First off is how much money is being spent on AUPD. Are those resources that could be better allocated elsewhere?”

While Damiana doesn’t have a firm position on defunding, he believes that students deserve the opportunity to voice their opinions. He’s also concerned about the relationship between AUPD and D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department, an organization dogged by controversy over police brutality and misconduct in recent years. 

The MPD did not respond to The Eagle’s request for comment. 

Damiana also hopes that the proposed board might include local residents, not just campus community members. Some have had experiences with AUPD, he said, and although most see the department positively, its presence affects much of the surrounding area. 

Interested students should reach out to him, the ANC and President Sylvia Burwell’s office, Damiana said.

Police defunding and abolition have also garnered support from several student organizations. The Asian-American Student Union, Latinx and American Student Organization, Muslim Student Association, AU College Democrats and AU PRIDE cosigned a statement in August, stating that the University “must set an example of what inclusion truly means and abolish AUPD.”

The statement notes disparities in the University’s budget. AUPD and Parking and Commuter Services operated with over $8 million in the fiscal year 2020 while the Office of Campus Life, which is home to 17 different offices including the Counseling Center, received $17 million.

“It’s about reallocating funds to prevention methods because really, the police department is reactionary,” said Jeremy Ward, president of AU College Democrats. “The social services are more preventative. It’s shifting, on campus, money from a reactionary department to an underfunded, preventative department.”

Unlike the existing campus police advisory board at the University of Michigan, which staffs two students, two faculty members and two staff members, Ward said that he would like to see an oversight committee with a larger operating staff.

“The composition of the panel has to look like the University,” Ward said. “That being said, you want to have affinity groups at the table. NAACP should be at the table, BSU or other Black groups, other minority groups and organizations that often don’t get the spotlight. You also want to have students who may not be in on-campus leadership. It has to span different classes. Members of HPAC and the counseling center should be there.”

The conversation of police abolition has been at the forefront since, and even before, the nationwide movement in the summer of 2020. Brock said that while defunding is a possibility in the future, all he’s asking for right now is oversight and a seat at the table. More, he hopes, will come later, once student voices are reliably included in institutional decision-making. 

Brock’s proposal is flexible — a vital component of negotiating with the University, he said. He’s learned that it’s all about compromise, even if that means keeping plans relatively vague for a period. 

Once the University provides him with more comprehensive information about AUPD, such as its budget and policies, Brock plans to get more specific with his request. However, he doesn’t plan to compromise on everything. 

“We’re not interested in defunding small amounts,” Brock said. “We’re not abolishing, but we’re also not interested in getting bargaining chips, right? We want to make sure that this is a proportional amount that actually creates a smart investment in our students, specifically our BIPOC students.”

Brock’s term as student body president has recently ended. While he hopes students will continue the initiative, he recognizes that’s not a guarantee. He’s planning to continue working on the proposal, and has meetings scheduled with University stakeholders, he said. 

“I hope after this pandemic that people really start to question these systemic issues as they have this past summer, and really sit down and start to think, ‘We can use this organization, we can use these sugar-coated positions to really change the dynamics on campus, we can organize in a way that we used to as a people in terms of the civil rights movement,’” Brock said. 

ssolano@theeagleonline.com, dpapscun@theeagleonline.com 

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