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YDSA hosts political education event to launch Defund UPD campaign

Attendees discussed abolition of UPD and the organization’s demands at the kickoff event for YDSA’s Defund UPD campaign

<p>The ambassador program saw $1.6 million in 2019 and increased to $2.54 million in 2020, a 58 percent increase.</p>

The ambassador program saw $1.6 million in 2019 and increased to $2.54 million in 2020, a 58 percent increase.

Young Democratic Socialists of America at U.Va. hosted a political education event with between 30 and 40 attendees Wednesday in New Cabell Hall to launch its Defund UPD campaign. During the event, activists presented arguments for firing Timothy Longo, chief of the University police department and associate vice president for safety and security, and defunding the University's ambassador program.

YDSA’s two main demands are for the University to fire Longo and reallocate funding given to the ambassador program to other community safety measures, the University’s Safe Ride program, which provides students with free, point-to-point transportation services after University Transportation Services have stopped running for the night. YDSA also hopes to allocate funds towards developing better bus routes and improving street lighting on 14th Street, Lambeth Lane and other places around Grounds.

At the meeting Wednesday, leaders of the event asked that attendees not record or take photos in order to protect the privacy of attendees and keep the event a safe space. 

During the presentation, YSDA members cited several incidents during Longo’s time with the University Police Department as the basis for his removal. 

Longo has been a police officer for over 30 years. He spent more than 20 years with the Baltimore Police Department before joining the University’s police force.Between 2002 and 2004, Longo authorized a racially-targeted dragnet to search for a serial rapist who had been identified as a Black man. Following Longo’s orders, police stopped almost 200 Black men without a warrant in order to sample their DNA.

When Sage Smith — a transgender Black woman — went missing in 2012, Longo again faced cirticism from students for not mobilizing enough resources in the search. The Charlottesville Police Department is still investigating Smith’s disappearance. 

In December 2015, when he was still an officer in Baltimore, Longo gave expert testimony on behalf of Officer William Porter — the police officer indicted for the death of Freddie Gray. Gray died in April 2015 in police custody after sustaining a fatal spinal injury. Longo reportedly testified that Porter had acted in a way that was “objectively reasonable under the circumstances he was confronted with.” 

While YDSA is calling for Longo’s removal, the organization did not propose a concrete plan for the rehiring process during the meeting. Rather, members noted that “the goal is not to hire a ‘better’ police officer.”

Some meeting attendees discussed the prospect of separating Longo’s current job — chief of police and vice president of security — into two separate and distinct positions to loosen University security’s ties with the local police department.

In an email to The Cavalier Daily, third-year College student Ola Mohamed explained the reasoning behind YDSA’s most recent demands.

“Longo’s history reveals a consistent pattern of supporting [and] defending systems that have disproportionately harmed black men, such as the case of Freddie Gray and DNA Dragnet,” Mohamed said. “In sum, the presence of UPD on Grounds continues to threaten the comfort, as well as the overall safety of Black and Brown students at U.Va.” 

YDSA also hopes to eliminate the ambassador program, which began in spring 2015 with the stated goal of making the community safer. Ambassadors provided approximately 1,700 walking escorts for students last semester and patrol areas around the Corner, such as 14th Street and Wertland Street.

YDSA passed out a copy of a document obtained through a FOIA request — an invoice from R.M.C. Events, the company that the University sources the ambassadors from. According to the document, ambassadors make an hourly wage of $20.50 — supervisors, command and dispatch organizers make $22.50 an hour. In one weekly summary, six ambassadors posted to the Corner worked eight hours each for seven days — a total of 336 hours — and were paid a total of $6,888. Minimum wage in Virginia is $9.50 an hour. The University pays workers a $15 minimum wage as of 2019.

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 and $7.85 million in 2020. 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 and $3.89 million in 2020. The ambassador program saw $1.6 million in 2019 and increased to $2.54 million in 2020, a 58 percent increase. Longo’s salary is $285,000, while non-certified police officers at UPD have a starting annual salary of $45,000.

“It is not outlandish to say that the Ambassadors program is essentially useless,” Mohamed said. “The program is currently overfunded and students need to understand that these funds could be reallocated towards other, more beneficial programs that will satisfy our overall needs much more effectively than Ambassadors ever could.” 

YDSA has previously worked to achieve a tuition freeze for most undergraduates and campaigned for the University to offer a default credit/no credit/general credit grading option. The organization also delivered care packages and raised over $1,700 when students quarantined in March.

Students interested in YDSA’s Defund UPD campaign can get involved virtually or in person. Students can sign the organization’s petition or attend one of YDSA’s two upcoming meetings on Nov. 3 at 6 p.m. or Nov. 10 at 6 p.m.