Thousands of faculty and students have signed a petition that calls on the University of Washington to sever ties with the Seattle Police Department, saying the university has a duty to protect people on campus from police violence. But the university says it does not have a formal relationship with city police.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the two-page petition circulated on a Google document was accompanied by 223 pages of signatures, and organizers say more than 9,000 people have signed the petition. It’s also been endorsed by UAW 4121, a union that represents 6,000 workers at the UW, and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, which represents 15,000 graduate students, organizers say.
It’s part of a larger movement to reduce police presence at schools and on campuses across the country. Two weeks ago, the University of Minnesota scaled back its ties with Minnesota police in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white Minnesota police officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
The petition calls on the university to stop handing people detained by UW police over to Seattle police custody, stop using Seattle police to respond to public safety needs, and stop using the city Police Department for security for events such as football games.
The petition also asks that the university disarm the university-run police force that patrols the Seattle campus, that it stop using police dogs and that the university publicly commit to not hiring former police officers with disciplinary records for the UW police force.
The petition calls attention to a September 2016 internal investigation that “described racial profiling, excessive force and a failure to de-escalate at every opportunity” by members of UW police, but that no policy changes were enacted after the report was issued.
UW spokesman Victor Balta said the UW does not have a formal relationship with Seattle police that involves their presence on campus, calls on them to work at sporting events, or uses them for security at any other major function on campus. When Seattle police are working near Husky Stadium or Alaska Airlines Arena, it’s for traffic control purposes, he said via email.
He said that UW police, who are usually armed when they work on campus, undergo “rigorous training emphasizing de-escalation, community engagement, combating bias in policing, and supporting victims of sexual assault,” and that the university does a thorough background check before hiring.
“In an era where violent behavior and active shootings occur with alarming regularity to threaten our collective safety, we believe a well-trained, socially conscious, campus focused and UW-supervised police department is critical,” Balta said.
Last year, UW Police Chief John Vinson resigned, and a group of officers submitted a letter of no confidence in his leadership. According to an internal report, many officers reported a work environment that was toxic and ran off a culture of fear.
This story has been updated to include a more accurate count of the number of people who have signed the petition.