Shortly after a video of Montclair State University police arresting two people at gunpoint on campus went viral, concerns of excessive force made their way to the Student Government Association (SGA). Police officers from the University Police Department (UPD) attended the SGA’s first full body meeting of the semester, responding to students who questioned the video’s events.
SGA secretary Jillian Royal said the executive board realized how serious the issue was and carefully put together their statement.
“We wanted to make sure we were respectful of all students in touch of the issue at hand,” Royal said.
The SGA released a statement in response to the video several days after the incident occurred.
“We have contacted University Police regarding the department’s procedures to be better informed and understand their actions and decisions,” the statement said. “We will make this information available to all students.”
SGA President Serafina Genise said the police were not going to come to the meeting because they do not usually attend open forums, but University Police Chief Paul Cell emailed the SGA the day of the event saying they would attend.
After the SGA introduced themselves, everyone in attendance could write a question for the UPD on a notecard. Once cards were collected, Vice President Emma Rush read the questions and concerns for Cell to respond to.
The forum consisted of 28 questions, mostly written by people choosing to remain anonymous. Questions included inquiries about the procedures the UPD is required to follow, concerns about how much force and the weapons used to arrest the two people in the video, and how the campus community could strengthen the relationship between the students and police.
Information in Cell’s responses include:
- The UPD follows attorney general requirements for police to undergo racial and cultural sensitivity training and will be holding extra forums not required by the attorney general to strengthen relationships with communities that have historically been in conflicts with police.
- The UPD has spent the last two years making arrangements for all officers to have body cams.
- Since the arrest occurred, the university administration has reached out to the two students from the video who were searched by police.
- The police will not be releasing an apology statement for how they handled the arrest.
Cell also noted that the university police are holding forums Thursday and Friday afternoon from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Student Center for students who have questions about the department’s role and actions on campus. Representatives of the administration will also be at the events.
He also said that the department would be willing to come and speak at the meetings of any organizations that reach out to them.
Although some people online have said they feel the video of the arrest should be taken down, Cell felt more positively about it being taken and posted.
“My initial thought was I was so glad there was a video, so we don’t have questions that we can’t answer and that we can all look at it together,” Cell said. “I will never not want any of the members of the community to feel that they can’t video what we do because that’s who we are.”
Genise said several organizations, including the SGA, met with the dean of students to discuss their feelings on the event and what they were going to do to work together.
“We are here,” Genise said about the SGA. “We have open doors. If students ever have any concerns about anything, we are here for them and they can come talk to us.”
Genise is here to connect with students and find what they may be concerned over.
“We can bring their concerns to where they need to go and try to solve the issues at hand,” Genise said.