Missing the Mark

The Editorial Board calls for ACPD to not only re-mark their police vehicles, but also initiate greater communication and transparency toward the student body and larger community.

In an email sent by Chief of Police John Carter this past Friday, he expressed regret over his decision to remove markings on ACPD cars without seeking any input from the Amherst community beforehand. Carter reasoned that he believed fewer marked police vehicles would lessen anxiety for students.

Campus reaction to the unmarking of the vehicles was swift and unequivocal. Student-made signs, campus-wide ridicule, and student quotes featured in The Student made it clear that unmarking the police vehicles was not an effective way to increase student comfort with the police presence on campus. The decision to remove markings from police cars demonstrates a complete obliviousness towards the concerns of the student body, and has succeeded only in making students feel more unsafe. Even more worryingly, Carter’s email reflects the unilateral nature of the decision: there was clearly no consultation with either the community or the police officers themselves before the decision was made. This is not a productive way to run any kind of organization, let alone one that already has such a fraught relationship with the students it nominally protects.

Calls for disarming and abolishing ACPD altogether have become dominant in on-campus rhetoric on the subject. The Editorial Board’s article from nearly a year ago echoes a call by the Association of Amherst Students to disarm ACPD and itself calls for the department’s abolition. And yet, with each of its responses to these calls, ACPD has failed to address — or even substantively acknowledge — student concerns. Their rhetoric centers around building trust with the student body, but that itself reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of students’ problems with police. The very existence of a police department is threatening to many students, especially Black students and other students of color, and there is no amount of public-relations spinning or friendly dog visits that can change that fact.

It is clear, therefore, that the end goal of police reform in the Amherst community must be the outright abolition of ACPD and the creation of a new structure focused on conflict resolution by unarmed members of the community. However, the administration is more than a little resistant to addressing student concerns so directly. The abolition of ACPD will not happen quickly, but in the meantime it must change itself in order to be at least less antagonistic towards the student body — and unmarking police vehicles is not the way to do that.

Despite numerous listening sessions and nominal efforts to understand and adapt to students’ needs, there remain significant gaps in communication between students and ACPD. The decision to unmark ACPD vehicles came from a misconception of what students wanted, and a fundamental misunderstanding of why they wanted it. If it was clear to police administration that masking the police presence on campus only makes it more sinister and no less threatening, then the certainty of bad reactions from the student body, if not the obvious issues with their decision, would have dissuaded them from making the change.

Communication goes beyond the process of decision-making as well. We as students are not only upset by the unmarking of ACPD vehicles because it is a change we did not want, but also because it is one we were blindsided by. Without any formal announcement or explanation, news of it spread through word of mouth and means like AmherstBussin. When policies change, students should be informed. This means candid emails from the chief of police should always follow decisions made by the department. Communication also extends to a clear understanding of ACPD on the part of the student body. Students should know what ACPD’s purpose and policies are. We should know exactly what ACPD does as a department so that we may have a more productive relationship with it as a whole.

This is therefore a call for a kind of mutual transparency. Instead of “trust-building” events and policies that often feel like propaganda at best and downright sinister at worst, the inner workings of ACPD — as well as the thoughts and feelings of the student body — should be clear and very easily accessible to all parties. It is only through direct and obvious communication that we can ever hope to have our concerns heard.

Unsigned editorials represent the views of the majority of the Editorial Board — (assenting: 11; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 0).