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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Chancellor Gary May’s campus safety task force makes eight recommendations for policing

The final report details plans for reforming the Police Accountability Board and improving responses to mental health calls

By REBECCA GARDNER — campus@theaggie.org

On June 15, Chancellor Gary May’s campus safety task force published its final report containing eight recommendations for forthcoming reforms to campus policing. 

May charged the Task Force on Next Generation Reforms to Advance Campus Safety in June of 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and in response to the ensuing national conversations about policing. The task force was asked to consider how safety can be best achieved on UC Davis campuses in Davis and Sacramento.

Motivated in part by the previous pepper spray incident of police violence, UC Davis has worked to make reforms to campus policing in the years following, according to May. Reforms in the tenure of current UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD) Chief Joseph Farrow include a 33% reduction in officers. The improvements to campus safety will be a continuous effort, as the task force’s eight recommendations are currently being implemented and will continue to be enacted in the two following academic years.

Members of the task force worked for 11 months, discussing and assessing policing at UC Davis during this time. Town hall meetings were held to gather feedback from undergraduate and graduate students, medical and nursing students, international students, alumni, staff and faculty. 

The final report came after the task force was granted a six-month extension to gather community input. A preliminary report was issued on the original due date in December 2020.

Kevin Johnson, the dean of the UC Davis School of Law and the co-chair of the task force, said that in the next academic year, community members can expect greater transparency and a review of the powers of the Police Accountability Board (PAB). He added that a mental health crisis unit may be created.

“I was pleased with the report and accepted all 8 recommendations,” May said via email. “The task force conducted a thorough, comprehensive review and sought extensive input from our campus community before producing the report. It’s important to note that we will continue to operate in a mode of continuous improvement.”

Reviewing the Recommendations 

Perhaps the most significant recommendation of the task force is to review the authority and power of the PAB.

Established in 2014 in response to two instances of alleged misconduct, the PAB is composed of students, staff and faculty from the Davis and Sacramento campuses. The board’s role is to oversee the campus police department and independently review complaints and allegations of misconduct.

However, the PAB is limited in that it is unable to review incident reports, audio recordings and body camera footage directly. Currently, an investigator from the UC Davis Office of Compliance & Policy reviews and then provides a summary of this information to the PAB.

Furthermore, if allegations of misconduct are verified, the chief of police is not required to accept sustained allegations of misconduct, as stipulated in California state law. The chief also determines how officers are penalized for misconduct, as California state law prohibits police personnel records from being shared. 

“It’s California state law that doesn’t allow those police officer records to be shared, so that’s why it would be very difficult for the PAB to determine penalties [when] they don’t know the history of the officer,” Farrow said. “I know people don’t like it when I say you have to trust the chief because the chief knows exactly what’s in that personnel folder.”

The board does not currently review use of force incidents by default; unless a complaint is filed in response, the PAB only conducts an investigation when instructed by the chancellor or the chief of police.

“The way the system works is that any use of force is automatically reviewed by me,” Farrow said. “We do a complete investigation. I’m the fact finder. I can tell if they are within or outside of the policy. So that’s how the current system works. But I also have the ability to immediately send it to the PAB. So if I get one and I look at it and go ‘the optics of this one look bad,’ to have transparency, I send it to the PAB.”

Farrow accepted six of the nine sustained complaints since the PAB was established in 2014. He said that he is open to the recommendations made in the task force’s report, which calls for hiring an outside consultant to review issues concerning the role and scope of the PAB.

“I try to remain neutral and independent,” Farrow said. “What I don’t want to do is have a voice and say on how the board is made up, how it operates, how it is controlled. Some people would see that as a conflict because the board is set up to advise and regulate the police department.”

While most allegations have been dismissed prior to reaching the PAB, only 15% of allegations investigated by the board were sustained, according to the Davis Faculty Association’s (DFA) follow-up analysis of the annual PAB complaint report data. 

 “This pattern of allegation disposition suggests either that UCD police officers have performed in an exemplary fashion since 2014 or that the UCD complaint review process has not been effective at surfacing and addressing UCD police misconduct during this period,” wrote Donald Palmer, the author of the DFA report.

Another major existing issue is that many community members don’t know about the existence of the accountability board or know how to file a complaint, according to Farrow. He said that he thinks the police department needs to increase community awareness of the PAB. 

As a direct outcome of the task force, after any interaction, officers will distribute a business card with a QR code which will bring the community member to a survey in which they can provide feedback concerning the encounter or file a complaint.

The task force’s fifth recommendation calls for improving responses to mental health calls.

According to Farrow, UCDPD receives multiple calls each week requesting welfare checks with varying degrees of urgency. The most frequent type of mental health response that involves campus police occurs when officers are on patrol.

Farrow said he has been pleased with how UCDPD handles crisis response. According to him, there has never been any use of force or arrests in his four years during responses to mental health calls. 

While Farrow is proud of the conduct of his officers, Farrow said that he understands some individuals are afraid of the police which prevents them from calling to receive help during a crisis or mental health emergency. 

“It’s time that we come up with a better system that removes the chances of escalation or allows more people to participate because they aren’t dealing with uniformed police officers,” Farrow said. “Ultimately, I think it is a good thing.”

By the fall of 2022, the “best practices in the field” should be implemented at UC Davis, according to the final report. The task force supports deploying mental health professionals and social workers in response to mental health emergencies. Campus leadership is advised to form a workgroup to create its new approach.

Because consensus on disarming UCDPD could not be reached, the task force recommended that the department’s use of arms policy be regularly evaluated. However, with the fourth recommendation, the task force favored barring UCDPD from participating in the Law Enforcement Support Program—formerly known as the 1033 program—which allows local law enforcement agencies to receive surplus military-grade equipment from the federal government.

Farrow said that he accepts the ban, explaining that “there’s nothing really that I can think of that we would want from that program.”

While the intention of the ban is to prevent the militarization of the campus police department, and the potential resulting repercussions, Farrow said the lost ability to gain surplus technology wouldn’t bring the consequence of militarization. 

The task force’s third recommendation is to implement alternative approaches to public safety and policing. With the closing of the campus holding cell facility in 2018, moving away from the criminal justice system, the task force recommends that UC Davis implement its own restorative justice program. 

Aligned with UCDPD’s visions of “contemporary policing,” the task force recommends modifying sworn officer’s uniforms, given that they are still identifiable as UCDPD. Currently, Aggie CORE officers (unarmed, non-sworn officers) wear polo shirts.

The final recommendation of the task force is to acknowledge the legacy of the Pepper Spray Incident, which the university has previously spent hundreds of thousands of dollars scrubbing from the internet. 

Considering the backlash generated by past failed attempts at erasure, the task force recommended acknowledging the 10-year anniversary of the incident on November 18 with a healing session. It also suggested considering “creating a plaque, or other public acknowledgment, commemorating the student activism.”

Addressing Abolition

The abolitionist position is mentioned throughout the report, and the report hints that the abolitionist perspective was well-represented within the task force, stating that “some members of the Task Force demanded ‘abolition’ of the UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD).”

However, vocal abolitionists in the UC Davis Cops Off Campus group refused to participate in or collaborate with the task force altogether. 

“Policing task forces have a singular function and that is to re-empower policing when it is under public scrutiny,” wrote the UC Davis Cops Off Campus group in a collective statement to The California Aggie. 

Ultimately, while May has said that “abolition is a possibility,” the task force dismissed abolition as a feasible plan. The consistent explanation offered is that if UC Davis were to dismantle UCDPD, the campus would fall under the jurisdiction of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office.

The ASUCD Police Research Task Force, which published a separate report with its own recommendations, wrote that there should be an effort to “Understand, Acknowledge, and Respect Abolitionist Movement.”

The task force on Next Generation Reforms to Advance Campus safety’s report suggests that the campus police department is preferable to the presumed alternative—the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office.

“To offer the full consequences of abolition, the report should clearly differentiate between the Yolo Sheriff Department and the UC Davis Police Department and note that, if the campus police department was abolished, the Sheriff’s Office would assume jurisdiction,” the report states in the meeting notes included in the report. “Victims of assault/abuse are treated respectfully from UC Davis police. Survivors are more likely to report to UC Davis police than city police.”

The report supports its claim that preserving campus police is in the best interest of victims of abuse and survivors by explaining that UCDPD works in conjunction with the UC Davis Center for Advocacy, Resources and Education (CARE) in a manner that external police officers do not.

While the report states that the task force “spent significant time discussing abolition, including exploring its meaning and ramifications,” members of the Cops Off Campus group were not satisfied with the task force’s examination of the abolitionist mission.

In an email to The California Aggie, the Cops Off Campus group wrote in their collective statement:

We are perplexed at the idea that this task force has engaged the idea of abolition. The word appears in their statement but it is apparent that they lack a basic understanding of the idea. This is clear in their suggestion that abolishing campus police would simply mean their replacement by other local police, when abolition is explicitly a positive project to replace policing with safer practices distinct from the historically, intrinsically racist institution of the police. The best way to care for our community is not to put it under one or another police jurisdiction; it is to address the ways in which the community is not sufficiently provided and cared for at present. The incapacity to conceive of anything beyond a jurisdictional change within the permanent existence of the police underscores both their ignorance of abolition and their poverty of imagination.

This story was updated on July 18, 2021.

Written by: Rebecca Gardner — campus@theaggie.org 

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