SWC member Jane Mee Wong stands in front of the University Police Department. She identified a UW police officer who infiltrated the student group.
Eric Godfrey, UW vice provost for student life, met with UW Police Department (UWPD) Chief John Vinson yesterday to discuss the university’s stance on accusations from the UW Student Worker Coalition (SWC) that the UWPD sent an undercover officer to “spy” at one of the group’s meetings.
“I think it’s an outstanding police department, but this incident was out of character, not good judgment, and not acceptable, and not a tactic that we employ on this campus,” Godfrey said. “… It will not happen again.”
Godfrey said that the incident is not consistent with the goals of the university.
Earlier this week, members of the registered student organization sent a press release to several local news organizations saying that an undercover UWPD officer “infiltrated” one of their meetings and made efforts to discourage disruptive picketing and protesting.
SWC members said that they welcomed an unfamiliar woman to their April 8 meeting who called herself “Tani.” Several days later, SWC members Jane Mee Wong and Matt Hamilton recognized the woman in front of the UWPD, this time in her police uniform.
“I said, ‘Tani is that you?’ and she came over to the car,” Hamilton said.
The members identified the woman by her name tag as Officer Tanesha Van Leuven of the UWPD.
While SWC members say this incident has not changed their plans for the May 3 strike, some members are upset.
“It’s appalling that they’re doing this to registered student organizations,” said Jacob Greenberg, an SWC member. “What kind of university is this that the police come and spy on us?”
Despite the UW’s condemnation of the incident, the SWC said that it is just one in a series of attempts by the university to quiet student activists, accusing the UW administration of influencing the attempt to infiltrate the meeting.
“We absolutely do believe there’s a connection between the administration and UWPD’s action,” Hamilton said.
SWC activists said that public statements made by the university and closed-door meetings with the UWPD do little to rebuild what trust existed between the SWC members and the university administration.
Godfrey, however, said that the UW administration does not have a policy of infiltrating or bullying student groups and stressed that this particular occurrence is an anomaly among normally good relationships between the UW and student groups.
“I reject the notion that that behavior was influenced by the administration,” Godfrey said. “The decision was made within UWPD, and it was authorized by the UWPD.”
Godfrey said that this incident is not representative of either the UW’s or the UWPD’s policy.
“It is not a pattern in my view, and it is certainly not UW policy to intimidate these student groups,” he said.
Reach reporter Natalie Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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