Public Safety Fired

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Fifth Estate # The South End insert

The University, still reeling from WSU President David Adamany’s resignation over the Labor Day weekend, received another shock with the announcement that the Public Safety Department has been ordered to disband immediately by acting-WSU President Ria Frijters. The 25-officer force has patrolled the campus and surrounding neighborhood for the last 20 years, but always amidst charges of abuse of their power and general ineffectiveness.

According to Frijters, her decision was made after the actions of Public Safety officers during the second day of the strike by UAW Local 2071 representing campus clerical workers. On August 26 campus police enforced a ban by Adamany against strike activity on the campus and attacked and arrested two strikers, detaining four others for the “crime” of carrying picket signs. “This attack on peaceful picketers was something like you would expect from the South African police rather than members of a university community,” said Frijters.

Frijters stated that the presence of armed, uniformed police not only conflicted with the idea of an intellectual atmosphere where free inquiry and political debate is encouraged, but also gave rise to an image portrayed by the sidewalk graffiti which has recently appeared on campus stating: “Police State U.”

Frijters also charged that the university police were ineffective, repeating the 17th century advice of Machiavelli “to be loved, but failing that, be feared.” “Unfortunately,” said Frijters, “Public Safety is neither.”

She told the South End she feared that even though her order to disband the department was effective immediately, renegade elements of Public Safety might continue patrolling the campus either out of shock or habit. She warned, “These officers are no longer employees of the University, they no longer have the force of law behind them, so if they attempt to assert any authority, faculty and students are free to completely ignore their orders.”

Reaction among students and residents of the surrounding Cass Corridor neighborhood was universally favorable to the elimination of the department. In the words of one W. Hancock resident, “They [the police] would be a bad joke if it was not for the fact that they hand out parking tickets at three in the morning and carry guns.”

Campus political activists and unionists have no fond memories of the Public Safety Department from the origins of the force in the turbulent ’60’s through to the present UAW campus strike. Al Day, a WSU student during the anti-Vietnam war era, told the South End that the campus police were always on hand to protect the CIA or military recruiters and to stop anti-war demonstrations. “It always seemed that they enjoyed knocking demonstrators around,” he said.

The vicious attack on picketing union Local 2071 members on August 26 on Ferry Mall, reinforced Day’s notion for many unionists in attendance, WSU Chemistry Professor Anton Johnstone, said, “Those guys [Public Safety) had a gleam in their eye as they dragged a picketer down by his hair and handcuffed him. They have no place on campus.”

Prof. Karen Eliot of the History Dept. said that the way the campus police acted toward the striking workers “should come as no surprise.” “The role of the police in state society is to protect the institutions of power and never to be on the side of those who want reform or change. This is particularly true in labor battles where police throughout the world are the first line of defense against workers who are doing no more than asking for a few dollars more a week.”

“If people ever start demanding fundamental alterations in the way power dominates,” Elliot continued, “the police are the ones called upon by the ruling sectors to attack blacks demonstrating against apartheid in South Africa or to staff the death squads in Central America and the Philippines. The WSU cops certainly haven’t done anything that dramatic here, but only because the threat to power hasn’t warranted it yet.”

Reactions from members of the Public Safety Department to their dismissal were mixed with many feeling that Adamany had made their position on the campus untenable as it was. WSU Sgt. G.M. Cool said that the ex-WSU President had made fools of him and his men by ordering them to keep union pickets off campus during the current strike and then let them be humiliated when more than a hundred strikers grabbed the forbidden signs and marched through the campus in violation of the presidential edict. Adamany was forced to reverse his order the following Monday when a throng of 400 unionists and supporters again ignored a “no-go” area and marched onto the university grounds with “Strike” signs as Public Safety officers looked on helplessly.

Also, the WSU officers complained about getting no respect or fear from students, faculty or neighborhood residents in the way in which Machiavelli had advised. One, Sgt. G. MicKinney, who had been a campus cop during the Ohio National Guard massacre of Kent State University students in 1970, said, “I’m going back to Kent; at least there they know how to deal with protesters.”

Other campus officers who are concerned about the loss of their jobs felt they would have no problem getting positions with the Detroit police. According to Lt. Mary Swift, “Hell, they’re losing so many cops in the city to dope and robbery charges, they’ll probably hire all of us in a group.”

Some WSU students and Cass Corridor residents did express a concern about reduced security in the Wayne State area when the Public Safety patrols are gone. Although considered a high crime area, one resident told the South End, “I guess we are going to have to take some responsibility for our own lives now. It’s not like the cops were ever able to prevent crime in the first place. Instead of living like isolated individuals who depend on the armed might of the state,” he continued, “it might be necessary for us to get to know our neighbors and start defending ourselves. We couldn’t do worse than the cops have.”

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