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Students expressed split opinions on DPS enforcement of COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy

DPS is one piece of a larger effort to educate and monitor social distancing in the Brown community

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Questions surrounding DPS’s role in enforcing social distancing follow nationwide activism to defund and reform police in the wake of anti-Black violence, though some say DPS’s role is minimal and essential.

Since the start of the academic year, the Brown Department of Public Safety has been responsible for monitoring campus, educating students about the COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy and reporting some violations to the Office of Student Conduct & Community Standards, according to DPS Chief of Police Mark Porter.

In a poll conducted by the Undergraduate Council of Students from late June and early July, 40.3 percent of students said they would be “uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” if DPS enforced social distancing. 40.5 percent of students responded they would feel “comfortable” or “very comfortable.”

“The reasoning is fueled in part by the national landscape. We’ve seen the murders of multiple people of color,” UCS Chair of Campus Life Zane Ruzicka ’23 told The Herald. “40.3 percent of students are saying that they want the status quo changed.” 

Based on the poll data, UCS sent a list of priorities regarding Brown’s reopening plan to University administrators on Aug. 30 — including  “ensuring DPS officers are not used for campus health regulation enforcement.”

DPS is not responsible for seeking out additional information after an incident nor disciplining students that break the University’s COVID-19 policy, according to Dean of Students and Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards Yolanda Castillo-Appollonio. “DPS gathers as much information as they feel they can in the moment, and then we are following up and trying to connect the pieces,” she said. 

The Office also decides the appropriate disciplinary outcome for students, whether that be a reminder, reflective essay or something more serious such as probation or interim suspension, according to its website.

DPS has not hired any additional officers to monitor and enforce the policies, but Porter said they are collaborating with the University’s Event Staff Services, who often wear orange coats around campus. 

Nick Sawicki ’23 said he felt that the poll’s wording, “enforce social distancing,” overstates the kind of involvement he has seen DPS participate in. “I’ve never seen them enforce social distancing guidelines, and I’ve rarely seen the (Event Staff Services) do that.” 

Of those who said they would feel “neutral,” “uncomfortable,” or “very uncomfortable” with DPS enforcing social distancing in the UCS survey, the most cited reasons were that “police departments in general are not suited to respond to this type of issue,” and that “DPS is not currently trained to enforce social distancing.”

One Brown student, who requested anonymity as to not break the professionalism guidelines for PLME students, said that DPS should instead focus on improving its handling of typical responsibilities rather than add new ones. But she understands that DPS will need to be involved with serious COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy violations, such as shutting down large indoor parties, since “life is on the line” if the virus spreads to the community.

She said that part of her skepticism toward DPS’s ability to handle COVID-19 policy violations fairly and without bias stem from her own experience. She said a DPS investigator unintentionally repeatedly called her and her friend, an international student, by incorrect and stereotypical names after a burglary incident. Despite being corrected, the student said the investigator made “racially charged comments” toward them, such as inferring they could not afford insurance.

Porter said that he was not previously aware of these allegations and added that it should be reported to DPS as soon as possible to be properly investigated by University Officials.

A DPS officer, who also requested anonymity out of fear of professional repercussions, said she and other officers have received extensive training by the department to respond to COVID-19 policy violations. She also printed and laminated the complete COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy guidelines and student commitments to bring with her on patrol. 

“I want to help the community, the students and myself understand what the guidelines are,” she said.

Porter said that DPS has responded to a handful of significant incidents regarding social distancing violations both on and off-campus, mostly due to noise complaints for indoor gatherings. Though “the vast majority of behavior concerns will not involve a response from DPS,” he added.

Students are encouraged to call DPS to report COVID-19 Campus Safety policy violations in “emergency situations.” In non-emergency situations, they may call the Anonymous Reporting Hotline, email the Office of Student Conduct, or submit an incident complaint form.

“If it’s something that needs immediate intervention in order to keep people safe, then it might be something you would want to call DPS for,” Castillo-Appollonio said. She added that some students may not feel comfortable calling DPS in some situations and may use whatever reporting method they feel is appropriate.

When DPS receives a call or tip regarding a potential on-campus COVID-19 policy violation, Porter said they report the complaint to the Office of Student Conduct. If the complaint is time-sensitive, DPS will dispatch officers to the scene or send members of the Event Staff Services for minor incidents occurring outside on the Brown campus, such as on the Main Green. 

If the call regards a potential off-campus violation, DPS relays that information to the Providence Police Department, who has primary jurisdiction over the area. DPS often sends their own officers with PPD for COVID-19 policy related calls in order to collect additional information, educate students about the policy and report serious violations such as large indoor gatherings to the Office of Student Conduct. The Providence Police Department does not report any violations to the University if they are called directly. They never report to the Office of Student Conduct about COVID-19 violations.

But, if the Providence Police Department receives a call or tip that they believe is relevant to Brown’s COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy, they will request assistance from DPS to collect information, educate and report potential violations to the University.

The COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy, which outlines DPS’s role in its enforcement, was decided by multiple planning groups, subcommittees and senior leadership and guided by discussions with department leaders and individuals across campus, according to University Spokesperson Brian Clark. 

Clark added that “protecting the health and safety of individuals on and near the Brown campus” is “fundamentally core to the mission of (DPS),” but that they are only “one part of a shared endeavor across the University.”

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  1. Reynolds Woodcock '13 says:

    As a older person who is vulnerable to the risks of Covid-19, I applaud the University’s efforts to enforce the Campus Safety Policy. Students aren’t the only members of the Brown community. Student behavior has repercussions on everyone and we all have a moral responsibility to practice healthy safety measures as recommended by science – not someone’s personal opinion. If they can’t behave accordingly, they should consider not being on campus.

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