UCR halts any hiring of UCPD officers following recommendations from task force on campus safety

Ryan Poon /The Highlander

In an effort to listen to those demands, Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox announced the formation of a Campus Safety Task Force in September 2020. Composed of students, staff, faculty and community members, the task force was formed to advise on how to improve safety and the feeling of safety for all members of the UCR community, especially as it pertains to UCPD.

Over the course of the fall and winter quarters, the task force was charged with reviewing police operations on campus, budgets, personnel, oversight and assessment, as well as examining current structures and offering recommendations regarding campus policing, racial injustice and social inequity.

On March 22, Wilcox announced the nine recommendations made by the task force and the next steps for the future of campus safety at UCR. Effective immediately, UCR has halted any hiring for UCPD openings, including the chief of police, and moving forward, the task force will also complete a comprehensive assessment of campus safety needs by May 1, co-led by Interim Provost Tom Smith and Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Gerry Bomotti.

Upon her arrival on May 1, incoming Provost Elizabeth Watkins will be appointed chair of a newly-formed Chancellor’s Campus Safety Committee and Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Mariam Lam will serve as chair of the Campus Safety Accountability Board, which will replace the UCPD Campus Community Advisory Board. Lam will regularly provide community updates through reports, an online dashboard and ongoing public dialogue.

Members of the Campus Safety Task Force included Lam, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Brian Haynes, Interim Police Chief John Freese and ASUCR President Luis Huerta. Together, the members of the task force shared assumptions to guide their process for making proper recommendations to the chancellor. In their assumptions, the task force agreed that systemic racism exists in U.S. society and in policing and must be eliminated wherever possible. They added that campus safety must address the needs of UCR’s diverse student body and community, including those who feel less safe in the presence of UCPD and other law enforcement agencies and that UCPD must be held to a higher standard than traditional law enforcement agencies.

In their 20-page report released on March 22, the task force outlined nine recommendations based on three different themes for the campus moving forward. First, the Campus Safety Task Force recommends reimagining campus safety by narrowing UCPD’s traditional scope and integrating the unit into a more comprehensive Campus Safety Division in order to support the safety and well-being of UCR’s diverse student body. The Campus Safety Division would encourage community engagement through town halls and office hours to regularly interact with campus groups and understand community needs on a deeper level. Certain public accountability measures would also be implemented to ensure that the division adheres to their vision, mission and values and promotes transparency. 

The division would also integrate campus safety activities that address issues such as mental health, domestic violence, sexual harassment and drug or alcohol abuse, as well as pursue innovative models to pair and cross-train public safety personnel with campus practitioners. The task force also recommends implementing a standing committee or workgroup to continually review and improve campus safety efforts. 

The second theme for the recommendations is campus safety training, personnel and oversight. The task force acknowledged the need for additional education and training on the range of implicit and deeply held biases that lead to police misconduct. “We acknowledge that there is ample scholarship on the historical ineffectiveness of anti-bias training, specifically in law enforcement, in undoing the deeply embedded forms of individual biases that lead to police violence,” states the report. The task force recommends improving recruitment, training and retention efforts for UCPD to address these implicit biases and related infractions or misconduct. In order to do this, UCPD wil collaborate with the the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office to develop and understand training based on issues surrounding anti-Blackness, anti- BIPOC, and anti-LGBT societal contexts: intersectionality, institutional and systemic forms of discrimination and inequity.

In connection to UCR’s hiring freeze for UCPD officers, the task force recommends conducting a comprehensive assessment of campus needs for public safety, based on at least five years of data such as campus calls, complaints and arrests and assigning campus safety personnel accordingly. They also recommend that any current position vacancies be reallocated toward hiring mental health specialists.

The final theme in the report is collaboration with the city and county of Riverside and campus-based entities to implement meaningful and substantive reform of the current UCPD. This collaboration would address issues of justice in the court system and community-based mental health interventions. They would also like to implement a more proactive and collaborative approach to improving physical and mental well-being in order to attend to the broader community’s basic needs, particularly for individuals that are food and housing insecure and among marginalized communities. “Such efforts aim to mitigate the likelihood of engaging in ‘criminal’ activity before it occurs…these actions will not only serve to enhance campus safety at the university, but also help to serve as a model for the larger community,” states the report. 

The task force also seeks to implement a restorative justice program in coordination with the Riverside County District Attorney’s office and UCR’s Legal Affairs Office to address misdemeanors on the UCR campus. These activities would include identifying and providing the financial and operational resources to offer options for diversion away from the court system, providing the community with information on how to find appropriate legal representation as well as identifying a UCR campus safety liaison, campus safety personnel, student affairs case manager or social worker to address each case.

In addition, the task force recommended working collaboratively with the city of Riverside, UCR’s School of Medicine and Counseling and Psychological Services to develop and implement innovative regional partnerships to address mental health issues and provide more humane interventions, based on best clinical practices in psychiatry and social work. Finally, they ask that UCR and UCPD work collaboratively with the city and county of Riverside and UCR’s Student Affairs Division and Governmental and Community Relations Office to improve and invest in services related to basic needs, mental health and homelessness, while placing particular investment into marginalized and highly vulnerable communities: Undocumented, International, Native, Black, Brown, Queer, Trans, Neurodiverse and Disabled groups on and off campus. 

The implementation of these recommendations were set to begin this month. “It is important to note that while we are taking first steps toward meaningful change, we are not at the end of our review. We still have more to do and will implement additional recommendations and actions after further assessment,” wrote Wilcox.

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