George Floyd did not die on a college campus, but his murder by the Minneapolis police last year has been investigated by university police. After intensive scrutiny, several local schools have started making changes.
At Temple University, campus police began wearing body cameras and began checking visible tattoos on officers for possible extremism or bias. The University of Pennsylvania is adding three parishioners to its public safety advisory board and is considering the possibility of seconding a plainclothes counselor along with an officer for mental health-related calls. And Drexel University police have received more training on how to de-escalate conflict and intervene when they see a coworker using excessive force and addressing bias.
Colleges also conduct surveys to better understand the concerns of students, staff, and community members. Pennsylvania State University has just started its second.
Charles Leone, who served as Temple Public Safety Executive Director for six years and oversees the 115-officer division of which he has been a member for 35 years, said it was the first time he had seen so many policy drafts and changes and new ones I’ve seen training courses in such a short time.
“We really took a close look at where we stand and where we need to be and what we want to be especially for our community,” he said.
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Some faculties and students say changes to their campus don’t go far enough – a Penn professor who is part of a group calling for the abolition of armed campus police called their response “farcical” and “hollow” – while others see the effort as a first step and hope that there will be more improvement.
“You are heading in the right direction,” said Rev. Charles “Chaz” Howard, Penn’s chaplain and vice president of Social Justice and Community who co-directed Penn’s public safety review. “I am sure we are not finished with this conversation and I am confident.”
After Floyd’s death, the colleges started or restarted task forces for the campus police. In the past few months, a number of reports have issued expressing myriad concerns about the unfair treatment of people of color on or near campus, the use of force and a lack of transparency.
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Drexel President John A. Fry confirmed the fierce criticism in a June 1 message to the campus, and the university has promised a “reinterpretation of public safety.”
“We need to be aware that too many members of our university community feel unsafe in the presence of [Drexel police] Officers, ”Fry wrote.
He noted that the report’s findings include issues identified in cities and across campus at the national level, including “disproportionate stops and interviews with black community members, especially black men; armed officials posted to tackle non-criminal and / or non-violent situations and potentially escalate them; and a lack of good data to track and improve the results. “
In a table of 82 stops or interactions by Drexel police in which a person experienced a behavioral crisis, about a third describe the person as a “black man” or “black woman,” while most of the others do not list any race, it says Report.
“This disproportionate reporting or accounting for race … raises a number of questions about the potential for explicit or implicit biases to influence encounters with behavioral health crises,” the report said.
Based on contributions from 550 people, Drexel’s report also included positive reports in which police said they were building a community and protecting the campus.
“When I see a strong presence from officials, I feel safe,” said one student.
Other accounts were troubling. One “stakeholder” noted for no good reason “friends who had guns drawn by DUPD officials”. One student said the police “harassed my friends because they are LGBT or” [people of color] on several occasions. “
Similar concerns have been expressed in other reports from the universities’ working groups.
To improve transparency, Penn publishes additional documents on police procedures and controls on a website. and is Change the composition of its Public Safety Advisory Board. It also gives power to someone outside the police force – Senior Executive Vice President Craig R. Carnaroli – to appoint members. Maureen S. Rush, vice president of public safety, had previously appointed her.
She found that the 121 officer division files an average of four complaints against officers a year, and in her 27 years there, she cannot remember the last time violence was used. Your officers have been wearing body cameras since 2018.
However, she said that given the events at the national level, officials will have to work even harder to forge positive connections in the community.
“We are working in triplicate to ensure that minority communities in particular, as well as international communities, feel that these are their police, that the Penn police are here to keep them safe and feel safe,” she said .
But Chi-ming Yang, an associate professor of English at Police Free Penn, a group of 60 students, faculty, staff, and alumni formed last year, said the department’s efforts fell far short.
“It really ignores a lot of the key recommendations made by the task force itself,” she said. “It’s deeply troubling.”
The department has not released a detailed budget or committed to fewer officers and less police presence, as called for in the report, she said. It also shows no new way to reinvest in the community, she said.
The recommendation that a party outside the police force, such as the Human Resources Department or the Ombudsman Board, should investigate complaints against officials was also not taken into account.
Howard, the chaplain, says he understands that the control made the police feel a little beaten up.
“There are some things that we can respond to now and there are things that will take a little longer,” he said.
“They’re the best college police in the country,” he said. “You protect a lot of people every day, including me. Yet they are part of a national police system and a legacy of the American police force that is broken. “
Penn State reactivated a policing and color community task force it started in 2015 and expanded it to include police departments in the surrounding communities of Center County. In May, it provided body cameras to officials on its campus. The university is planning an advisory board and is trying to expand diversity among its 167 civil servants, who were more than three-quarters white and only 2.4% black in 2020, said Iris Richardson, director of diversity, justice and inclusion at the police force and public safety, a body created in 2019.
To attract more candidates, the university began advertising on all campuses and no longer required a four-year degree in favor of a high school diploma and some experience in the field, she said.
The review continues.
“We have to evaluate ourselves internally and externally to move forward and be the best we can be,” she said.
At Temple, the department is creating a policy for officers who fail to address excessive violence by a colleague and more specifically sets out the level of acceptable violence, Leone said. It also bought more tasers.
“We want as much as possible in their toolbox,” he said, with “clear instructions on what can and cannot be done”.
Temple is also working on an early warning system to track potential issues with officials who are awarding points for complaints, violence and vehicle accidents, he said.
Senior Bradley Smutek, president of Temple’s student government, said the biggest problem is a communication gap between police and students that creates misunderstandings. But the department, he said, is open to feedback.
“There are occasional mistakes, but by and large I don’t think our police have as many problems as some,” he said.
But police could do more to get to know students, said Junior Samantha Quinlan, vice president of the student government.
“You should have events where you can meet the people who will protect and support you,” she said, so that officials “are not just a face that comes in when a crime is committed.”
She recalls learning about police brutality at the national level from an early age.
“As an African American, that’s daunting,” she said. “It’s scary. It’s a deep struggle. “
She is happy that the temple police are at least trying to improve: “Let’s see how it goes.”