The Young Democratic Socialists of America at U.Va. is demanding that the University defund its Ambassador program and fire Timothy Longo, chief of police and associate vice president for safety and security.
YDSA argues the funds currently allocated to the Ambassador program should go towards the University’s Safe Ride program, an on-demand free ride service that the University operates from midnight to 7:30 a.m. The organization also said the University should improve its bus routes following student frustrations this fall and add more street lighting on Grounds and in areas where students frequently live.
A budget summary showed the overall budget for the Office of Safety and Security in 2020 was $15.5 million — a 31 percent increase from its $11.8 million budget in 2019.
UPD spent $7.27 million in 2019 — $2.64 million of which was in operating expenses and $4.63 million in officer and staff salaries. By 2020, police department spending had increased to $7.85 million — $2.36 million of which was in operating expenses and $5.49 million in officer and staff salaries.
The remainder of the office’s budget is used to fund the operations of the security department, which employs several dozen unarmed security patrol personnel around Grounds, including the Ambassador program.
The security department spent a total of $3.55 million in 2019. In 2020, security department spending had increased to $3.89 million — funding for $2.25 million of these expenditures came from outside revenues and recoveries.
The Ambassador program saw $1.6 million in spending during 2019 — in addition to a nearly $900,000 anonymous donation — and increased to $2.54 million in 2020. Longo’s salary is $285,000, while non-certified police officers at UPD have a starting annual salary of $45,000.
Longo has come under fire before, both locally from student groups and community members and at a national scale. He began his career in the Baltimore Police Department, where he garnered attention in December 2015 after testifying in defense of Baltimore police officer William Porter’s actions in the killing of Freddie Gray. Gray died in police custody of an injury sustained while in transport. His death drew national attention and protest against the officers who allegedly used excessive force against Gray — the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would not bring charges against the officers involved in Gray’s death in 2017.
The Intercept reported in July that before coming to the University, Longo led a DNA dragnet campaign between 2002 and 2004 where Black residents of Charlottesville were approached and asked to submit to a DNA swab in order to catch a serial rapist. Black residents reported feeling harassed by the police, feeling it was unsafe to go outside.
“Chief Longo works incredibly hard every day to keep this community safe and University leaders are grateful for his service to our community,” University spokesperson Brian Coy said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily.
Earlier this fall, Sarandon Elliott, co-chair of the YDSA’s National Coordinating Committee and fourth-year College student, released an open letter saying that she and other student organizers have been approached by members of UPD asking to speak with them. In one instance, Longo; Police Sergeant Ben Rexrode; Cortney Hawkins, diversity, equity and inclusion manager for UPD; and Dani Lawson, community engagement specialist for UPD entered the Multicultural Student Center in plain clothes.
“We do not welcome the gratuitous patrols of multicultural spaces and unjust inquiries and invasions of student privacy amounts to harassment, and/or political profiling,” Elliott wrote in the letter.
YDSA’s demands bear similarities to the list of “historic yet unmet demands” reiterated by the BSA in June of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd. Some of the demands on the list date back to the 1970s.
One of the demands — originally made in 1970 by a strike committee during an anti-war protest called “May Days” — calls for the University to “follow the example of divestment and demilitarization of the police” set by the University of Minnesota, which announced it would be limiting ties with the Minneapolis Police Department after Floyd’s death. The university no longer uses MPD officers for large events or specialized services.
A perceived increase in community alerts reported on and around Grounds — including five repeated instances of gun violence, instances of sexual and aggravated assaults and, most recently, a robbery — have led some students and parents to fear for safety. One incident involved a student who was inadvertently struck by a bullet in the bathroom at Boylan Heights.
In response to concerns from the community, University President Jim Ryan pledged to devote additional resources to increase the safety of the community, such as deploying more ambassadors on the Corner and in neighborhoods off Grounds. Despite these concerns, the annual Clery Act report released in September reported almost every type of crime has decreased from 2018 to 2020 — the report does not include statistics for 2021.
Starting Tuesday, all UPD officers will receive procedural justice training from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. According to a press release from UPD, procedural justice refers to fairness “in the processes that resolve disputes and allocate resources which, when done, promote positive organizational change, bolstering good relations with the community and enhancing officer safety.”
UPD also announced the creation of a new unit Sept. 26 that will provide increased security to neighborhoods around Grounds. The Community Oriented Policing Squad includes four UPD officers who patrol Thursday through Saturday from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.
A group of students from the School of Law released a letter Oct. 6 demanding that the University rescind its decision to increase police presence and instead promote economic and social development in the Charlottesville community and improve transparency in UPD’s management of complaints and police harassment.
Data in the letter shows that, consistent with the Clery Act, there has not been an increase in reported crime in the UPD’s September 2021 crime logs compared to Sept. 2019.
“These numbers do not reflect an increase in crime around the University area,” the letter reads. “The main thing that has changed is that the Community Alerts, which also document instances of crime that occur outside of the University area, are now sent to parents.”
Student Council passed a bill last week to create the University Networks of Care Ad-Hoc Committee, a proposed community-based crisis response program that will remove the University Police Department from nonviolent mental health crises involving students. The pilot program will launch in fall 2022 and if successful, could mean that UPD officers will be phased out of mental health crises as early as 2024.
The Ambassador program, which was launched in 2015, is a private unarmed security force that the University has contracted with RMC Events. The staff members are recognizable by their bright yellow jackets and patrol the streets of Charlottesville in the evening and at night. They also provide traffic control services and security at sporting events.
“University Ambassadors are a critical element of the University’s comprehensive safety and security program,” Coy said. “We are grateful to our entire safety and security team — U.Va. police department officers, ambassadors, security officers and event staff — as they continue to perform their jobs with dedication, hard work and an unparalleled commitment to the safety of our faculty, staff, students and local community members.”
YDSA is hosting a Defund UPD event Wednesday in New Cabell Hall at 7 p.m. The University’s chapter hosts over 150 due-paying members and is one of the largest YDSA campus chapters in the country.