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Friday, September 24, 2021

Campus safety task force must consider greater institutional change when making its final recommendations

Although the task force’s initial recommendations are well-intentioned, more radical change is necessary to fundamentally alter campus policing

In response to large-scale national demonstrations and calls for local change to the system of policing in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, Chancellor Gary May established the Task Force on Next Generation Reforms to Advance Campus Safety on June 11, 2020, to “examine what we can do to improve our community policing.”

On Feb. 2, the task force released its eight initial recommendations and will deliver its final recommendations in June, an entire year after its establishment last summer. 

Some groups such as UC Davis Cops Off Campus have criticized task forces as serving to delay the creation of change, proliferating signs that state “every time we hear the words task force a window breaks.” 

While significant change takes time and thoughtful planning and we appreciate the task force’s intention to evaluate the role of campus police and campus safety, a year should be sufficient time to accomplish more than just making official recommendations. 

Though Cops Off Campus opposes the campus safety task force, the Editorial Board hopes that the administration will still communicate with these individuals or otherwise involve them to discuss what a safe campus looks like to them. This would serve to take into account “a broad range of views,” as is the goal of the task force. 

Furthermore, the initial recommendations of the task force merely gloss over or do not even address many of the predominant concerns with policing such as the police budget and police unions. Instead, they focus on community outreach, open communication, transparency (all somewhat synonymous with one another) and an evaluation of police uniforms. 

While all of these goals are well-intentioned and important to discuss, the Editorial Board hopes for change beyond transparency and greater communication. Communication and transparency cannot fundamentally alter the flawed system of policing and deeper-rooted problems such as the quasi-military way police officers are trained to behave. 

There is some discussion in the recommendations of who should be responding to mental health crises, a greatly contested topic, as many departments are unwilling to move away from largely ineffective crisis intervention teams (CTIs). The task force stated that it would be “potentially worthwhile” to staff mental health and social workers to respond to such calls rather than police officers. 

The Editorial Board strongly feels that it is incredibly—not just “potentially”—worthwhile to reallocate policing funds toward staffing mental health professionals and social workers. We hope that the task force will recommend a reduction in the department’s extensive budgets in recent years ($8,550,000 in the 2019-2020 school year and $7,712,000 this year), as this money could be used to solve the issue of limited funds for hiring health professionals.

We also recommend that the task force and administration look toward models such as the reform experiment in San Francisco, in which health professionals respond to the majority of calls relating to mental health crises, as an example of change that could be implemented at UC Davis when making their final recommendations.

The Editorial Board also suggests developing digital student safety services that can easily direct students or community members in crisis to teams tailored to specific needs. These services would allow students to avoid contacting the police department for situations that may be better served by the presence of a mental health professional or social worker.

The last recommendation of the task force regards “continuing reforms,” but it greatly lacks clarity. In this section, the task force encourages Joseph Farrow, the chief of police at the UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD), to continue reforming the “culture and institutional nature of the department” which could take the form of “abandoning uniforms or other changes.” 

There does not, however, seem to be a logical jump between reforms to improve the culture of the department and abandoning uniforms. While wearing policing uniforms has been connected to officers’ behavior—”police departments wearing dark uniforms were more likely to act aggressively toward citizens than departments with lighter uniforms”—changing or eliminating police uniforms will not sufficiently change UCDPD’s institutional nature. Further action such as disarming campus police (which is only briefly mentioned under the uniforms section) must be taken if they truly want to impact policing culture. However, we are hesitant to condone additional police training as it could lead to an increased police budget without necessarily affecting change. 

Some community members, including Cops Off Campus, have called for the complete abolition of police departments. Although discussion topics for the town halls scheduled throughout the month of March include abolition and May has said that he is open minded about “significant, even radical reimagining of ‘campus safety,’” it is clear that campus police will not be abolished. Members of the task force, May included, have “expressed deep reservations about the viability of abolition upon learning that eliminating the UC Davis Police Department would cede the policing function to the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office.”

While we understand that these recommendations by the task force are not final, we hope that its members will seriously consider our suggestions and concerns when moving forward. We further hope that future task forces will strive to provide more timely recommendations or that the university will explore more effective alternatives to the creation of task forces. 

The Editorial Board strongly supports a significant transformation through aforementioned actions such as diverting funds from UCDPD to a mental health response team, in addition to decreasing police presence on campus.

Even after the final recommendations are made months from now, it will be a long and slow process to reform a more than 70-year-old campus institution. Providing severely lacking initial recommendations eight months after the upsurge of protests at a local and national level is simply not good enough. 

Written by: The Editorial Board

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