UW campus police start Twitter fight with student

    The UW-Madison Police Department started a twitter fight with a student Monday. (Corey Coyle | (CC BY 3.0)

    The UW-Madison Police Department is facing blowback from students after issuing a tweet Monday morning criticizing the personal beliefs of the chair of UW-Madison student government. 

    Late Sunday night, Matthew Mitnick, chair of Associated Students of Madison (ASM), tweeted the link to a letter to the editor published in the student newspaper, the Badger Herald. The letter, advocating for the defunding of the UW-Madison Police Department, was written by representatives of the Teaching Assistants Association (TAA) and the UW Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) Coalition.

    “[UW-Madison Police] needs to be defunded,” Mitnick wrote. “And while we’re at it, let’s just get them off campus entirely.”

    Mitnick’s tweet came after ASM passed a vote of no confidence in the campus police department on Sept. 29. The largely symbolic vote was held as the department has faced criticism from students over its role in controlling protests for racial justice in Madison this summer.

    Nearly 12 hours after Mitnick tweeted the link on Sunday evening, the verified account of the UW-Madison Police responded with a hashtag and emoji-filled tweet criticizing the personal views of a student the department is charged with protecting. 

    “In our first two meetings with ASM leaders, [Matthew Mitnick] told us more than once that it was not ASM’s aim to defund or abolish UWPD,” the account wrote. “This certainly goes against Matthew’s own stated position. #mixedmessages”

    The response to the tweet was swift and harsh — quickly gaining more than 50 quote tweets criticizing the department’s message.

    Mitnick, City of Madison Alder Max Prestigiacomo and Dane County Supervisor Elena Haasl published a joint letter to UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and UWPD Chief Kristen Roman. The letter states the three students — both Prestigiacomo and Haasl are also students at UW-Madison — feel “deep frustration and disgust” over the tweet and that it “is just another showcase of continued community harassment by the department.” 

    The letter also calls for university officials to condemn the tweet, name its author and dismiss anyone involved in its writing. 

    Mitnick said the department’s tweet shows why the vote of no confidence occurred in the first place — which was held after complaints were raised over UWPD’s presence at Madison protests this summer and the redaction of items from purchase orders detailing how the department spends its money. 

    “UWPD’s actions today on Twitter demonstrate why ASM originally issued a Vote of No Confidence in the department,” he said. “UWPD’s behavior is inexcusable. How can students feel comfortable sharing their experiences and opinions if this is how administration reacts? By attacking students publicly, redacting information from purchase orders made during student protests, and ignoring the demands of the BIPOC Coalition, UWPD has proven it can’t keep students safe.”

    UWPD spokesperson Marc Lovicott says the department should be able to express its opinion online just as Mitnick can and that department leadership was involved in drafting the tweet. 

    “Mr. Mitnick is certainly entitled to his own opinion — however, as the chair of ASM, his opinion matters and holds significant weight,” Lovicott said. “We certainly have the right to share our opinions as well and set the record straight about our department and our efforts.”

    “The tweet/reply was written and posted in consultation with UWPD leadership,” he continued. “It was not ‘targeting’ in any way — instead, it was correcting contradicting and inaccurate information which was posted within a public forum in which we were tagged.”

    UWPD’s social networking policy states that all accounts are managed by the department’s public information officer. 

    “Postings must be appropriate and within professional and ethical standards. Content may originate from within the Department or from outside sources, if relevant to the Mission and goals of the agency,” the policy states. 

    A spokesperson for UW-Madison administration did not respond to a request for comment but in a recent interview with student reporters, Blank said she’d never heard of any specific instances of UWPD having negative interaction with students.

    “I have not heard from any students who had an individual story to tell about a negative interaction with a specific police officer on campus,” Blank said. “I have heard students tell me they don’t trust the police, that I should defund them, that they don’t want the police anywhere near them. I understand the reasons why someone may feel that way. That doesn’t mean we don’t need a police force on this campus.”

    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.