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Disturbing allegations of racism within UWPD

It was deeply disturbing to me, as I’m sure it was to all of you, to read the media reports about how several Black UWPD officers experienced truly reprehensible acts of racism within the department. The possibility that these actions might have occurred and been tolerated in any unit, or anywhere in the UW community, is anathema to our values and our commitment to being a diverse, inclusive and equitable community.

I want to be clear that this kind of behavior amongst our staff, much less amongst those who have the responsibility for the safety and security of our campus community, will not be tolerated or excused. If these allegations prove true, there will be serious consequences for those responsible.

We are not naïve to the reality that both overt and insidious forms of racism occur in our society, and we know that our campus is not immune. The last two years have shown us in stark relief how racism continues to harm — and even kill — individuals who are its victims. It also affects all of our health and well-being in deep, systemic ways. Among the most shocking things about these reports was that, if true, they remained unknown to not only myself, but also Vice President Denzil Suite and Interim UWPD Chief Randall West. They were not reported through union representatives, and they did not surface during an independent review of the department in 2019. This review, conducted by an outside consultant to assess problematic dynamics within the department, described a “culture of fear,” characterized by a top-down leadership style, which led to changes in management at UWPD. But at no point in the investigation did racism emerge as a concern.

We have worked hard to build integrity into our University resources for reporting discrimination and harassment and we urge everyone to use them, whether they are a victim or an observer. Yet, I also understand that repeated victimization and systemic racism can lead individuals to feel helpless to improve their condition and to distrust institutional reporting systems. But, in light of the close scrutiny the departmental culture has received, it pains me that the accusations in this case have only emerged now and that litigation was seen as the only viable remedy. Nonetheless, we are grateful that they have emerged, so that we can address them appropriately. And we will.

While the potential lawsuit will impact how we can communicate to campus about the investigation and resolution of the complaint, please know we will investigate the claims fully and take appropriate action, and we will release further information publicly when we are able to.

I would also like to assure our community that our ongoing efforts to change how policing takes place on our campus, including developing alternate ways of handling safety checks, minimizing the presence of armed police on campus, continuing to support our student advisory board and building in a faculty advisory function will not be set aside. These allegations make this work that much more urgent and important.

Building an inclusive community rests with all of us. These events show how much remains to be done and how difficult it will be. But we are up to the challenge and we will not back down.