Butler’s Student Government Association has worked with BUPD to help them better serve Butler students. Collegian File Photo.
JOE KRISKO | ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
On Oct. 1, Maya Patel, a junior strategic communication major, issued her first veto after being sworn in as the new SGA president. The vetoed resolution would have allocated $52.59 from the Student Government Association’s budget for the purchase of donuts to thank the Butler University Police Department. The original resolution and veto received negative feedback from some students due to the current state of policing in the United States.
With 24 votes in favor, 8 opposed and one abstention, the resolution passed SGA’s student senate after BUPD’s responses to two recent incidents: reports of shots fired and a person who was shot near campus. The resolution said sometimes BUPD “may not get the recognition they truly deserve for all the hard work they put in” and was meant to honor and thank the department.
Patel said a resolution like this is not uncommon. She said the senate has previously thanked other groups on campus like the facilities and dining staff. Will Gigerich, the speaker of SGA’s senate and a junior criminology major, said even the wording of the resolution itself was similar to previous legislation.
“I can tell you that wording came from another previous resolution, oftentimes the same sort of verbiage is recycled year after year… so I know the senator that wrote that resolution just pulled from a template” Gigerich said.
However, routine or not, the passage of the resolution and subsequent veto reinvigorated the conversation surrounding the role of BUPD on the university’s campus in the context of a broader national discourse on police brutality.
Patel said she had this discourse and the community at large in mind when she decided to veto the resolution.
“The thing that it comes down to though is that we as an organization of course appreciate BUPD and are thankful for all the work that they do on campus in supporting us and keeping us safe, but as a student body we also can’t be naive to our outside society,” Patel said. “We talk about that Butler Bubble kind of thing, we can’t live in that because that’s not reality for us and it’s not reality for a lot of students on campus as well.”
Patel said she wanted to make sure SGA’s actions reflected the voices of students while also recognizing SGA would likely continue to need to work with BUPD.
“Every student on campus is going to have different viewpoints on any given topic and we do have to respect and take into consideration everyone’s thoughts and feelings on it and their perspectives, but at the same time we do have to still work with these departments, like that’s not really a choice,” Patel said.
Before the veto of the original legislation, some students on campus had reacted negatively to the legislation on social media. BU4BlackLives, an organization advocating for the implementation of demands surrounding police reform on campus, questioned the usage of SGA funds — a portion of which is financed by student tuition dollars — in this manner.
Gigerich said he and SGA want to make sure that all student opinions are reflected in the decisions they make when possible, including the viewpoints of groups like BU4BlackLives. However, he said they have been having some difficulty in getting different perspectives related to policing on campus.
Gigerich said he tried to reach out to BU4BlackLives to schedule a meeting with them and get their perspective on the issues that are important to them. However, Gigerich said the group refused to meet with him unless he released the BUPD budget, something Gigerich does not have access to as a student representative in SGA.
BU4BlackLives did not respond to interview questions in time for this article’s publication.
Gigerich said SGA has also been working to act as a bridge between BUPD and the student body. The legislative branch of SGA reached out to BUPD over the summer to discuss trainings and ways the department could better serve the student body.
“I don’t think BUPD as an organization or as a department or even individually as officers wants to be hated by students,” Gigerich said. “So I think trying to find ways to bring them more into the Butler community instead of having them as outsiders is I think one great way to, number one, get them more involved with students so more people are more comfortable with them, but also just to try and improve relations between students and the police here on campus.”
Patel has also been working to evaluate BUPD’s role on campus as a member of the BUPD Advisory Group. The group, commissioned by Butler President James Danko, is made up of students, faculty, alumni, members of the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood and other stakeholders. Patel said the group has been working since close to the beginning of the academic year to put together a report that will ultimately give Danko recommendations for any changes they see fit for BUPD.
Patel said the group has been meeting weekly and making good progress, but that she could not say for sure when the report would be done or what their recommendations will ultimately be. She said BUPD Chief John Conley has also been helping the group to understand what goes into the decisions BUPD makes.
Conley declined to comment on this story while the department’s role is still under review.
Sophomore finance major Luigi Chirco said he thought it was important for any office, including a police department, to have it’s role clearly defined and set in stone. Chirco also had some thoughts on how the president could evaluate the department.
“I think the president should really consider ‘okay, what are common issues that happen on campus that the police actually respond to’ and, in those certain circumstances, let’s divy them up and try to understand how much the police really help and how much they harm or how much they just kind of stand there and they don’t seem to make much of a difference,” Chirco said.
Chirco is in his first year at Butler after transferring into the school and, because of that, he said he wasn’t familiar with the history of BUPD and how it has handled policing on campus. He said he understood why the resolution was vetoed, but also understood why students would want to thank BUPD.
“I think that people forget that the cops on campus are still cops, but at the same time they are dealing with a lot of issues that aren’t necessarily being dealt with by the city police force because they are localized to the campus,” Chirco said.
Although the resolution was vetoed, this veto could still be overruled by a two-thirds majority in the senate. However, Gigerich said he is not aware of any interest from any senators in bringing the resolution back up for this to happen.
“Currently it’s in a pile of papers somewhere that if somebody wanted to pull it back out, they could, but as of now I haven’t seen any interest in doing that,” Gigerich said.
Ultimately, Patel and Gigerich do not believe that the original resolution was introduced or passed with bad intentions in mind. Nonetheless, they said SGA cannot be naive about what is going on around the country.
“I think first and foremost we do have to recognize BUPD is present on our campus and that’s not changing in the near future as far as I can tell, so we do have to respect them and I personally do respect them and thank them for all of their service and for keeping us safe here on campus and I know many other students do as well,” Patel said. “But I think it’s just keeping the broader picture in mind and having those conversations with BUPD.”