One of the newest MSA initiatives aims to create a University of Minnesota Police Department Student Engagement team. An email was sent to the student body, outlining the team's goal of creating an outlet for student feedback and concerns to be heard by the UMPD and addressed swiftly and sufficiently. The email asked for students to apply to become board members, specifically students in minority groups on campus who can represent underrepresented communities at the University. We believe this initiative is important and a healthy stride in the right direction, however, it will take work for the engagement team to realize its full potential.
Community engagement organizations should play a significant part of our community, both on and off campus. Law enforcement's goal, according to their nationwide motto, remains to “protect and serve.” That goal cannot be accomplished unless an open line of communication is established and remains a factor in how policing gets accomplished. With police/community relations tense, given the current climate, any peaceful way to engage with law enforcement should be welcomed and utilized. New strategies to policing were introduced during last year’s election cycle and community engagement organizations were a part of many candidates' plans to increase community engagement and reform relations. These organizations and initiatives are part of the correct approach to improving the community and that does not change when applied to the community at the University.
This initiative comes at a time when communication between the University, law enforcement and the student body is disjointed. Last week, the Daily Editorial Board penned an editorial outlining the troubles surrounding the standoff between a man in the Graduate Hotel and police. We stand by our claims wholeheartedly, however, confusion among the student body was nevertheless present as safety was a concern. This UMPD Engagement Team should aim to facilitate circumstances like that — possibly not in real time, but at least retroactively.
We hope this team can become the number one source for improvements in policing on campus, but that means students really have to engage with UMPD in a thoughtful manner. With police/community tensions high, there has been a rhetoric, with protests happening earlier in the 2017-18 school year, that the UMPD has acted unacceptably. Students have been given the opportunity to create a better campus and must seize it in order for the engagement team to work and for students to better understand their police. Hopefully, with students and the UMPD working together, the community can act as an ally with law enforcement and law enforcement can better serve the community they become increasingly familiar with.