By Jasmine Kozak-Gilroy
On January 11, 2016, the new Evergreen chief of police, Stacy Brown, was set to be sworn in. Brown, who graduated from the college in 2006, was hired out of the Lewis County Deputy’s office where she had been working for 20 years, the last seven of which she spent as the chief deputy of Special Services. On the afternoon the administration planned to hold a welcome reception for Chief Brown, minutes before the program was set to begin, students took the microphone and created a loud disruption so the event could not go forward. Along with air horn like noise makers, students yelled “Fuck the Police!” and “Death to Pigs”.
When it seemed clear that the students were not going to quiet down or surrender the microphone and podium, Evergreen president George Bridges, chief of police Stacy Brown, and the other members of the administration putting on the event left and the reception was effectively cancelled. In an email sent out by Wendy Endress, VP of Student Affairs, she recounts that, “We cancelled the event, due to a few people taking over the podium. They blew a piercing air horn, and one individual forcefully took the microphone from me. Later, they took all the donated food from the campus pantry in Police Services and defaced a vehicle.”
The administration also cancelled a Cops and Donuts event where students could meet campus police officers, that was scheduled to take place a few days later. While in the email to students announcing the cancellation no reason was provided, Brown says of the event, “It was canceled after a lot of people determined what was most prudent for the safety of the entire campus. It was cancelled because we had some information that there were plans sabotage that event.”
Brown appears to have been referring to a Facebook event titled “COFFEE NOT COPS”, the event description of which reads, “The Evergreen State College will be hosting ‘Cops and Donuts’… So we will be next door with free coffee and zines. Our coffee is stronger and our lit is danker. Come hang out and get caffeinated and educated [heart emoji]”. It is possible the administration believed that those involved would also take steps to more actively disrupt the Police Services event.
When asked whether Evergreen police monitor student activity on social media, Brown insisted that while the campus police lack sophisticated surveillance, “We do have basic functions like looking on Facebook—and we do have a lot of supporters, and people tell us if something is brewing because they are concerned about the safety of campus.” Regarding surveillance in general and whether or not surveillance cameras were part of her ongoing plan to streamline policing at Evergreen she said that, “as police officers of course we would always like to see more cameras,” but that is unlikely to happen due to funding.
Brown, who graduated from the Evergreen State College in 2006, says that in her time as a student here she never saw anything like the protest that occurred at her swearing in, saying, “I never would have imagined that would come from the Evergreen State College. I mean we’re peaceful, right?” and that, “It’s very challenging to come to work and see a sign that says all cops are bastards.” Of the yelling that occurred she said, “I didn’t see anything like that when I went here—heated discussions, sure, but they were always civil.” Brown mentioned that she understood that there are students who had previous bad interactions with law enforcement, saying, “even though this is my profession, I know that there are bad apples in every bunch, whether it’s teachers or doctors or cops.”
Despite animosity towards the police force on campus, Evergreen’s new Chief of Police remains committed to community policing and community engagement, something she touched on several times during our conversation. She expressed interest in developing a program modeled after the Olympia Police Department’s roundtable Community Conversation events. Conversations that she hopes will be “something that goes a little deeper”, adding, “I am not here to preach at anybody, I am here to talk to students who are smart young thinkers and say what are some things that we could do as law enforcement? Give us some ideas.” Although when asked if she had plans in place to communicate with students who do not want there to be cops on campus, like the protesters who set up shop in the library lobby touting alternatives to policing, she replied that, “If people aren’t willing to communicate with me in a civil manner I don’t know how we can communicate,” elaborating that, “some people don’t think there should be law enforcement anywhere in the United States—like there shouldn’t be cops at all. It should just be—I don’t know how else to say it, lawless.”
While discussing students who feel uncomfortable with armed police officers on campus, Brown made it clear that not only is it a state requirement for police officers to carry guns, but that she feels it is a moral issue of her being able to protect herself when there may be people around her carrying guns or knives, arguing that, “the hatred that is spewed at us sometimes escalates and we’d have no way to protect ourselves.” She also said that not having guns puts officers at a disadvantage handling even peaceful gatherings do to officers getting overwhelmed, stating, “If it was just one officer you are going to see a taser or shots fired, you just don’t know.”
According to Brown, even peaceful protests can cause problems for law enforcement due to escalation and the sheer mass of participants, “Sometimes that crowd mentality you can have someone there who is there to be peaceful but then something happens and the crowd mentality the changes and then some bad choices are made and that action causes our reaction.” Often, Brown said, “It’s peaceful and then it’s not and then it is too late.” The alternative to campus police carrying guns is the Evergreen Police calling on the Olympia Police Department or the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office for help, something that happens anyways on campus due department’s small size. When asked specifically what her policy towards involving outside agencies in on campus policing, Brown responded saying that it is a complicated issues to be sorted out on a case-by-case basis.
Despite her fears regarding an inability to keep peaceful protests under control and her discomfort regarding recent protests targeting police, Brown insists that, “we need people who will stand up and try to make change in the world” saying that, “a lot of great has been done in this country through protests.”