Columns

Campbell ’18: DPS: the lesser of two evils

By
Staff Columnist
Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Following the events at the Latinx Ivy League Conference last semester, many have advocated the disarmament or even partial dismantling of Brown’s Deparment of Public Safety. This view is easy to understand, given the circumstances. Up until this discourse, I never really noticed BroPo’s weaponry. Now that I am looking for it, I’ll admit that seeing an officer carrying in the Ratty isn’t a very reassuring sight — and I have every reason to trust DPS. I can only imagine how that sight might make me feel if my circumstances were different.

Yet the solutions that have been suggested misinterpret the choices we have on this issue. The common belief is that we must choose between an armed and unarmed DPS. Realistically, the choice is between an armed DPS and the armed Providence Police. Before DPS became armed in 2006, Brown police were not allowed to interfere during the course of a crime, much like the yellow-jacketed Brown security officers now. This meant that while DPS “patrolled” our campus, all actual policing interventions had to be carried out by Providence Police officers. An unarmed DPS would be forced to revert back to this system. Given these two options, retaining an armed DPS is by far superior.

First and most obviously, a patrolling DPS officer is going to be able to respond faster than a Providence Police officer would, in all likelihood, have to be called to campus by DPS officers in order to intervene. This chain of communication is not only inefficient but also unsafe. This point is qualified by the argument that we should strive for more thoughtful, calm and collected policing that might benefit from a delayed response rather than first-instinct reactions. But when dealing with crisis scenarios, the response time is of utmost importance.

Seemingly more important to those advocating disarmament is the treatment of minority groups by DPS. Following the incident at the Latinx Ivy League Conference, it is easy to claim that there is bias within DPS. And these claims are well-founded, but bias exists everywhere. Much as we might hate to admit it, most people hold personal biases. More to the point, there are many, many biases within the Providence Police force. We can’t completely eliminate bias immediately, but we can control its magnitude.

DPS already outperforms Providence Police on racial issues in many different ways. Firstly, Providence Police was recently cited as one of the least racially representative in the entire nation. DPS, on the other hand, actually over-performs on diversity indicators, with about twice as many Black or Latinx officers relative to the proportions of the student body. Furthermore, DPS officers undergo annual diversity training, while information on Providence Police diversity training is incomplete and hard to come by, suggesting a lack of emphasis. Most importantly, the incident last fall was the first issue of racial misconduct at DPS reported in The Herald in at least 10 years. Providence Police, meanwhile, fired one officer for racially charged comments and was sued by another black officer who was assaulted by his colleagues while off-duty over the course of last semester alone.

Finally, DPS is simply easier for students to influence. Though they did hold their most recent feedback session over spring break, ultimately the department is accountable to Brown students, not Providence citizens (which most of us are not). They also provided outlets and forums for student input and have emphasized the importance of such communication. It is worth noting that any grievances we have as a student body will be much better received by a Brown-specific police force.

Within the last year, DPS has committed one reported incident of excessive force against a student of color. This led to the speedy suspension and eventual firing of the offending officer and a review of DPS. This is still unacceptable. Yet the alternative is much worse. The Providence Police has a worse record and will be harder to communicate with, whereas DPS’s record, while not perfect, is comparatively superior. In addition, the force is held fully accountable to the University. Because of all of these consequences, disarming DPS would likely do more harm than good. Dismantling DPS might seem like a noble cause, but it is short-sighted and ultimately dangerous.

Vaughn Campbell ’18 can be reached at vaughn_campbell@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.