Students Reject University Police Department’s Request to Move into PUB


By Cannon Barnett, Reporter

May 16th, 2023 – Staff and students at Eastern Washington University spoke out against a university police request to move its headquarters into the Pence Union Building during a panel facilitated by the student government. 

The Eastern Washington Police Department has been located in the Red Barn building behind campus since 2020. Police Chief Jewell Day, Detective Robert Schmitter, and Sergeant Nick Gerard were present at the panel on the 16th, and said that they want to move back into the PUB in order to be a part of the EWU community.

“Victims may be more comfortable coming forward if they know who we are,” said Schmitter. “We are literally out back in a barn, we feel we should be a part of the community.”

Day stated that the department was relocated to the Red Barn so that their PUB office could be used for storage, however Associated Students of EWU president Lucas Fyre clarified that the relocation was in direct response to the murder of George Floyd by police in 2020.

Many who attended the panel were familiar faces from Eastern’s MultiCultural Center (MCC), the Pride Center, the Black Student Union (BSU), and the Native American Student Association (NASA). They all spoke against the EWU Police moving back into the PUB.

Strong Heart, President of the NASA, said that the presence of a police uniform alone can be enough to bring up trauma for members of groups who are disproportionately targeted by the police. Another student brought up that increased police presence would result in more surveillance of students, and stated that there should be spaces separate from police.

Gerard brought up the police presence that already exists in the campus dorms to address these comments.

“For anything to change, there has to be a little bit of trust,” Gerard said. “We are coming in [to the dorms] to build relationships, not trying to arrest people. There has been a positive response with housing. We have a job, and we wear a costume to work.” 

Day built on this.

“We are not actively out searching for crime. We believe you [students] aren’t finished products. You are not who you are going to be yet,” Day said. He said that the approach of the EWU police is to use issues that arise as educational opportunities.

Multiple students challenged the idea that the police moving to this more central location would allow for building the community connections the officers say. Sierra Alexander, president of the BSU, brought up an example of when an officer showed up to what was intended to be a safe place for black students. The officer was apparently trying to build connection, but instead caused discomfort among the students.

Day acknowledged this as a weakness.

“It is a new world and we are learning how to interact. You guys aren’t as comfortable around police as previous student bodies,” he said. 

A student responded to this by saying that there has never been trust around people of color and the police, and questioned why there was no outside research being done. 

“You are part of a system upholding and enforcing laws that kill us every day,” the student said.

Day brought the focus away from the police system as a whole to the work the EWU police does on campus, and how he has relied on his decades of experience here to guide his approach to community building.

A staff member spoke up in defense of the police, and claimed that she wanted the police presence in the PUB to deter shootings, since the location is one of the most popular on campus.

Though this seemed to be a controversial opinion within the group, the larger consensus landed on the fact that the students want the police to be available to help in the case of an emergency, but do not want their presence on campus to increase.

Naite Boham, the Pride Center Associate Director, asked Day if the police would consider dropping any advancements towards moving into the PUB after hearing what the opinions of the students in the room were. Day said that they would consider this.

One student summed up the arguments of many.

“We want you here, but we are uncomfortable. So what are you going to do?”

“How do we make you comfortable?” Day asked in response. “We want to serve you. We need to relearn, but we need your help to do it.”