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Campus Safety Task Force Suggests Outreach, Outlines Next Steps

By Cody Kitaura/Dateline on February 2, 2021 in University

Any discussion of safety at UC Davis and UC Davis Health should include increased outreach, transparency and more, a 32-person task force said in its preliminary report.

Chancellor Gary S. May convened the group, the Task Force on Next Generation Reforms to Advance Campus Safety, last June as discussions of police reform swept the nation in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. It was tasked with examining the form public safety should take at UC Davis and UC Davis Health, and delivered its preliminary report to the chancellor in December. That report was published online Friday (Jan. 29).

The group, co-chaired by Kevin Johnson, dean of the School of Law, and Renetta Garrison Tull, vice chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, made eight initial recommendations, and will continue to work until delivering its final report this June. It suggested:

●︎ Improved communication: Noting that “many campus observers [are] unaware of [the] work” UC Davis Police officers do each day, the task force recommended telling students, faculty, staff and other community members more about the university’s public safety goals and safeguards, and how police fit into that.

●︎ Greater transparency — UC Davis’ police policies and procedures aren’t kept secret, but the task force recommended wider and more effective distribution of all available information about the department. The police department’s new website, launched in July, is a step in the right direction, the task force said.

●︎ A robust information campaign — UC Davis should spend time telling people about the basic functions of the police department, campus safety issues and concerns, as well as recent changes being made to the department, the task force said. This campaign should also include a call for suggestions and comments from the public (the task force plans to solicit comments and hold discussions on its own — see “Task force to seek input” below).

●︎ Increased trainings — The task force suggested that UC Davis should hold trainings to educate members of the public on the basics about the campus police department. “There is some basic information that is not widely known about campus policing, such as, for example, the distinction between the UC Davis police and city and county law enforcement agencies,” the group said in its report.

●︎ Expanded outreach — Regular information sessions, public discussions and other forms of outreach would not only improve lines of communication between the police department and the campus community, according to the task force, but it would also make it easier to build trust in the future by making the police better known in the community. The police department already has an outreach unit, led by Officer Mikio McCulloch, and the task force suggested creating an expanded outreach plan approved by Chief Joe Farrow and Chancellor May.

●︎ Evaluation of uniforms — Police uniforms can be intimidating and aren’t strictly needed, the task force said. “Police should wear attire that identifies them as police, [but] a police uniform is not necessarily required,” it said in its report. “The police chief should evaluate the use of uniforms by public safety personnel.” This could take the form of expanding the duties for unarmed protective service officers or student Aggie Hosts to things like taking reports. On a related note, the task force said it would examine the issue of whether police should be armed before issuing its final report. “Similarly, the fact that the police force is armed alone creates a significant divide between police officers and community members,” it wrote.

●︎ Responses to mental health calls — Chief Farrow should continue to explore the increased use of mental health and social workers in mental health emergencies — something that is already underway — the task force said, while noting the costs to staff these personnel “24/7 with relatively few calls may be substantial,” but potentially worthwhile.

●︎ Continuing reforms — The task force’s final recommendation in its preliminary report was to encourage Chief Farrow and others in the department to continue with reform efforts to change the culture and institutional nature of the department. These could take the form of abandoning uniforms or other changes, the group said.

Task force to seek input

The task force’s next steps include a survey, campus town halls, focus groups and more, noting that “extensive and meaningful community input is essential” to its work.

A series of town hall meetings have been set, with the first — meant specifically for undergraduate students — scheduled for Feb. 9. They continue through March 23.

“A consensus on the task force emerged that community input was necessary before it would be in a position to issue its final recommendations,” the group said.

Discussion topics for forums and other types of input would include the best ways to keep the public safe at UC Davis, whether officers should be armed, if the Police Accountability Board (which next meets Feb. 17) is an effective system, whether some responsibilities could be shifted to mental health professionals, what kind of additional training police officers might need, and whether the entire department should be abolished.

“Many task force members 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,” the task force said.

UC Davis isn’t the only University of California campus having difficult discussions about public safety — the first half of the UC Campus Safety Symposium was scheduled for today, and the second half is scheduled for March 24.

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