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ASUW member leads creation of program he hopes will ‘one day replace UWPD’

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Michael Saunders, ASUW director of campus partnerships, has created plans to implement a community-oriented approach to safety. Student Protective Services (SPS) would institute multiple policy and operational changes to the current system of campus safety led by UWPD.

Saunders worked closely with members of the Black Student Union (BSU) to fulfill their demands to disarm and divest from UWPD in favor of creating a system that is “safer and more accessible to all students,” according to Saunders. 

“Student Protective Services is pretty much a replacement model for UWPD,” Saunders said. “It would focus more so on student safety and resources that are proactive rather than reactive, which I think most police departments are based off of.”

Saunders met with UW President Ana Mari Cauce on Nov. 5 to discuss where their ideas align and how students and administration can work together on this program.

“I believe we both have a great understanding of how we can protect students, follow state compliance, and ensure the demands by BSU are met in some place on the spectrum between giving them exactly what they want and following state laws,” Saunders wrote in an email.

According to Cauce, UW administration has already changed UWPD operations over the past year in response to feedback from students and faculty.

The principles guiding us are those that I laid out in various venues last spring,” Cauce wrote in an email. First, that we look at campus safety holistically, not only from the lens of policing. Second, whenever possible, we match our response to the need. Our hiring and deployment of non-armed safety officers is a clear step in that direction. ”

Saunders sees his plan as a middle ground between ensuring the safety of all students while providing necessary means of security on campus.

“I’m honestly pretty confident that this is a really good presentation of ‘This is how you serve your needs of having armed force on campus’ and ‘This is how you serve student needs by making sure that they’re not getting killed by armed forces on campus and making sure that everyone feels safe,’” Saunders said.

As a campus security system, SPS would have the same legal authority as UWPD, though its use of power and force would be more heavily regulated, according to Saunders. Saunders’ plan emphasizes the use of subdivisions within SPS, with separate respondents and employees responding to different safety situations. 

Saunders laid out several different units of the program, including a victim’s advocate unit specializing in supporting assault survivors, a mental health crisis respondent team, and support staff for the unhoused population of the U-District.

According to Saunders, SPS would take a community-based approach to patrolling neighborhoods, taking the form of a “neighborhood watch” program that relies on bystander reporting and responses to crime.

SPS would include an armed response team, though its scope and power would be limited compared to UWPD’s policies for armed response.

“I understand this section needs to exist,” Saunders said. “It would be a tactical response team, and there would be different stipulations that would have them only be sent out in certain situations.”

Any tactile response would be analyzed and approved prior to armed response, with SPS leaders approving the level of force allowed to be used based on the severity of the situation, according to Saunders. The plan for SPS also extenuates that mental health specialists would be consulted to guide responses to crime, and that non-lethal weapons would be prioritized.

“There would be a little bit more regulation as to how that power has to be used and what the accountability processes are for when that power is being used,” Saunders said.

Saunders plans for SPS to have geographical jurisdiction over areas such as the Ave, off-campus student neighborhoods north of NE 45th Street, and the U-Village — all areas over which UWPD does not have full jurisdiction. Though UWPD has a memorandum of understanding with SPD allowing them to do some patrolling of Greek Row, Saunders hopes to reach an agreement with SPD allowing SPS to have more autonomy over a greater area of the U-District.

Saunders presented the idea to the ASUW Senate last year, though he found the 20-page piece of legislation was too lengthy to work its way through the legislature in a timely manner. Saunders instead has gotten students with designated seats on the Senate to provide their input and make edits to the plan, though not in any official capacity.

“Lots of people worked on this,” Saunders said. “Mostly students of color, queer students, pretty much mostly marginalized students worked on this last year throughout spring.”

Saunders anticipates SPS will go into effect in around three years, depending on factors such as “pushback, logistics, administrative convincing, state convincing, and what the transition [from UWPD to SPS] looks like.” 

Saunders encourages students to reach out to him at with questions, concerns, or input on the program

“That’s the biggest thing we’re pushing for is that we’re trying to include as much student opinion as possible while still centering marginalized identities,” Saunders said. “If a student feels like they are not included or can’t access these services, I want to give peace of mind that these services are for all students.”

Reach reporter Mari Kanagy at Twitter: @mari_kanagy

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