University of Minnesota Lied in Public Communications About Militarization of Campus Police

Pam Wheelock, Vice President of University Services for U of Minn, 612-624-3557

Questions Raised over UMPD Participation in 1033 Program

Was the university dishonest in public safety announcements about the militarization of the University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD)?

PoliceMilitarization-CopBlockIn September 2014, public attention was brought to the involvement of the University of Minnesota with a Department of Defense program that has transferred military surplus equipment and weapons to law enforcement agencies across the country. The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Minnesota Daily reported on the UMPD’s acquisition of weapons through the program, known as the 1033 Program, in editorials and news stories. The public attention to the militarization of the UMPD prompted two actions by the University of Minnesota. The university weighed in on the conversation regarding UMPD’s involvement in the 1033 Program in two Public Safety Updates sent via email to all Twin Cities students, faculty, and staff; and secondly, the UMPD returned the acquired equipment.

Unfortunately, that is not the full story. In the two Public Safety Updates, dated September 24, 2014 and October 10, 2014, the university made erroneous statements concerning which weapons had been acquired through the program and misrepresented where the weapons were returned.

Public government data received by Students United Against Police Brutality (SUAPB) shows that the University of Minnesota Police Department acquired three M79 grenade launchers around June of 2014 through a weapons request, approved by the LESO Office and the State Coordinator that oversees the 1033 Program in Minnesota. The 1033 Program allows participating agencies to acquire military weapons through weapon transfers from other participating agencies. These M79 grenade launchers were requested and acquired from the St. Louis Park Police Department. These weapons were in addition to the six M16 and two M14 rifles acquired in 2006 that were discussed by media and Public Safety Updates.

The Public Safety Update sent on September 24, 2014, states, “The University of Minnesota Police Department was offered the opportunity to acquire six M16 and two M14 assault rifles in April 2006 as part of the 1033 Program. They are the only equipment the UMPD has requested from the program…” The statement was preceded and followed by assurances that Pamela Wheelock of University Services and UMPD Chief Greg Hestness and Deputy Chief Chuck Miner have been and will continue to be transparent, forthcoming, and clear regarding participation in the 1033 program. Neither the university nor UMPD has publicly mentioned to date the three M79 grenade launchers that were requested, acquired, and then transferred away following the public attention.

SUAPB also notes that the October 10 Public Safety Update misrepresented where 1033 Program equipment was returned. The October 10, 2014 announcement states, “The Chief has signed the necessary paperwork to return the rifles to the US Army’s Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. They will be shipped as soon as the paperwork is approved by the Department of Defense.” SUAPB analyzed email and communications data regarding participation in the 1033 Program, obtained through a data request, and claims that the equipment actually went to a number of locations, including other law enforcement agencies. Based on UMPD emails and equipment transfer records, data shows that of the three M79 grenade launchers, six M16 assault rifles, and two M14 assault rifles:
• two M14 assault rifles went to Metro Transit Police Department
• six M16 assault rifles went to Aberdeen, Washington Police Department
• two M79 grenade launchers went to Rochester Police Department
• one M79 grenade launcher went to the US Army’s Rock Island Arsenal

There was no additional university communication announcing any changes to the destination of the weapons, and the October 10 announcement clearly stated that the decision had been conclusively made, and the paperwork signed, to send the weapons back to the US Army.

Public concern and attention prompted the transfers of the weapons, as evidenced in emails and correspondence in the data. The public concern, though, was certainly not just about militarization of our university police department. The concerns of many, including members of SUAPB, extended to military weaponry acquired by law enforcement agencies across the state and across the nation. The reporting on the 1033 Program has focused on how the militarization of local police departments is a national trend, and this is disturbing and alarming regardless of where the weapons are. It is great that the weapons are no longer in our backyard per se, on campus at the university, but we, SUAPB, have the same issues with those military weapons being used by Metro Transit or other law enforcement agencies. We find it deceitful that the university announced that the rifles would be returned to a military installation and that the paperwork was already signed, when in the following weeks, most of the weapons were transferred to other police departments.

A final question is raised by the obtained data, but not answered: Were the weapons UMPD acquired through the 1033 Program ever deployed? According to Erik Stenemann of UMPD, in email data obtained through public data requests, “One rifle was substantially rebuilt to make it usable for squad patrol, and will need to be completely broken down so all original components can be replaced,” before being transferred away. If this rifle was ever used for squad patrol, that would contradict repeated statements made by representatives of the university and UMPD that the weapons had never been deployed. This seems unlikely, but then again, most people reading the public safety updates would have believed the university to be honest and fully forthcoming regarding which weapons they had, and where the weapons went after the university dumped them for PR purposes.

The university got rid of these weapons, the M14s, M16s, and M79s, due to the public attention the controversial weapons were bringing to the university. A comment by Chief Hestness from the obtained data states, “We’re just going to return all. Too much continuing distraction, too little benefit,” and in the October 10 Public Safety Update, Wheelock stated, “It’s clear that [the weapons’] presence on campus is divisive” and distracting, as a reason why the weapons were being returned. It is therefore disturbing that the university, seeking to get rid of the weapons in order to repair perception or PR issues, then happened to make false statements in public communications about topics which would have brought further public attention and media attention to the university, had the statements told the truth.

SUAPB submitted four data requests to the university regarding UMPD’s participation in the 1033 Program, the decision to return the weapons, and the writing of the public safety updates. The fourth data request, dated December 14, 2014, was for emails and correspondence regarding the creation, writing, and editing of the two Public Safety Updates, and was sent in order to ascertain who wrote, edited, or approved the safety announcements, and what the editing and creation process for the content of the announcements consisted of. More than seven months later, the University of Minnesota has not fulfilled this data request.

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