Crime on Campus: Interview with a UMPD Officer

Policing on campus has become an increasingly contentious subject in the past four years, spurring defunding efforts by student activists. During its 2023 strike, the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) campaigned for funds to be transferred from policing to an “unarmed, community response to public safety” and “transformative justice initiatives.” The GEO Abolition Caucus has specifically demanded a “cop-free campus.” 

With these tensions in mind, the Michigan Review’s managing editor, Nick Gillin, interviewed a University of Michigan Police Department officer, who has served for more than 20 years. He will remain anonymous to prevent any professional repercussions. Below is a transcript of the interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.

MR: What are the most common forms of criminal activity that the university police investigate?

Officer: Our number one crime at the university is property crimes, mostly thefts. It seems as though something is reported stolen daily. Bicycles, purses, wallets, jackets, computers. And the vast majority are crimes of opportunity, where people walk away from their items, leave them unattended, or don’t lock or secure them. This happens in libraries when they’re studying or at the gym while working out, and they leave their property lying around.

MR: Are there any significant changes in criminal activity you’ve noticed over the years? How has that changed policing?

Officer: Bicycle thefts have increased severely over the past few years, but it seems to go in waves. We’ll have a rash of bike thefts, we’ll catch the bike thieves, they go through the system and then right back at it. Property crimes seem to increase during the Christmas holiday season. Electronic theft crimes are on the rise with criminals duping students into sending payments in the forms of gift cards or iTune cards for payments under false pretenses. Also, students sometimes are caught in sextortion situations, and then the criminals threaten to expose their photos if they don’t send them money.

MR: Have you noticed a change in perception regarding policing — especially post 2020?

Officer: I think everyone knows that years ago there was a huge push to “defund” the police.  As prominent as that was, my opinion is that it was still a very small minority locally that was demanding the police to be defunded. And, we see in larger cities where police have been defunded the havoc that is having on society. Here at the university there were minor demonstrations demanding defunding the police, but it was never a major issue for us. We never felt that we would be defunded; our department is supported well by the university administration.

MR: What advice would you give to a U-M student so they can stay vigilant regarding crime? 

Officer: Ann Arbor is generally a safe area; however, you always need to stay vigilant. We recommend never walking alone at night. Safety is in numbers. Don’t give criminals an opportunity. Always keep your valuables in your possession or locked somewhere. If you have a bicycle, we recommend that you use a U-bolt–type lock as opposed to a cable or a chain lock. I have arrested bike thieves in the past that had bolt cutters stuffed down their pants or in a backpack. If you go to a library or other space to study, never leave your property unattended anywhere. Criminals are known to case or walk through buildings looking for an opportunity to steal something. As I stated earlier, the majority of our crimes are crimes of opportunity.

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About Nick Gillin

Nick Gillin was managing editor and photographer of the Michigan Review.