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University News

Current DPS role, lockout protocol, body cameras among policing policy raised at BUCC meeting

DPS to no longer provide lockout services; body cameras to be discussed in the future

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 18, 2020

All lockouts and wellness checks during business hours will be carried out by the Office of Residential Life instead of DPS, administrators said at a Nov. 18 BUCC meeting as part of a larger conversation about DPS and public safety on campus.

Members of the University’s administration and student body discussed current safety practices, changes to dorm lockout policies and an external DPS review among other aspects of campus safety at a Brown University Community Council meeting Nov. 18. 

The meeting marked the first of what is intended to be a series of conversations with community members about policing at Brown extending into the spring semester. Throughout the BUCC meeting Wednesday, administrators presented potential changes and students were able to ask questions.

“We’ve seen how systemic racism has created gross inequities and injustices in policing across the country,” said President Christina Paxson P’19. “As a nation, we are engaged in … a long overdue rethinking of what kinds of … systems we want to have in place to protect the safety of all people.” 

At Brown, many students and student groups have demanded fundamental change to address systemic racism and police brutality since the murder of George Floyd in May, while coalition Grasping at the Root has called on the University to abolish DPS.

In this national and local context, administrators talked about some changes to the Department of Public Safety that are in the process of being implemented.

All lockouts that happen during business hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. will be handled by the Office of Residential Life, rather than DPS, Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes explained during the meeting. Students have the opportunity to pick up keys from the key office in Graduate Center. 

DPS will still handle after-hours lockouts until the spring semester, when either the Office of Residential Life will take over or the responsibility will be fulfilled through a partnership with another organization. “All lockouts will be handled in a different way, in a way that doesn’t have to involve DPS in an activity that is not really core to their function and mission, and in a way that students have identified would be more supportive for them,” Estes said. 

Beginning Nov. 23, area coordinators and other ResLife staff will handle wellness checks — in which University staff look in on someone whose personal wellbeing has become concerning to those around them — in residence halls instead of DPS officers. In response to a later question, Estes explained that there are several pathways to requesting a wellness check that will not involve DPS. Referrals can be made through Student Support Services, the Administrator on Call, Health Services and more. 

Margolis Healy, a campus security firm, also completed an external review on internal affairs of DPS beginning in summer 2020. Paxson explained that though the review has been completed, the results will not be made public. “External reviews are typically not made public because we want the people who are doing the external review to be very frank and give us their best judgment about where we can make improvements,” Paxson said. 

One recommendation from the review Paxson shared was having “a community discussion about what we imagine the future of policing and practice looks like,” she said. 

During the meeting, Executive Director and Chief of Public Safety Mark Porter and other administrators also gave an an overview of DPS’s role and responsibilities on campus.

DPS is both nationally accredited and licensed, which means that its officers “have both authority to enact or enforce University rules and regulations as well as city and state ordinances and laws,” said Russell Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy. 

DPS has 55 sworn officers: 37 campus police officers, 12 police sergeants, five lieutenants and one deputy chief, Porter said. It also has 12 dispatchers, seven public safety officers, seven security offers, two building guards and six administrative support employees. DPS employs 50 student employees as part of Safewalk, which is suspended this semester due to COVID-19, and social media programs, and the department works with 19 Allied Universal contract security officers. 

“One of the key benefits of having this type of a model and structure is that it allows the department to deliver a more comprehensive public safety program for the campus community,” Porter said. It “also allows us to organize and establish key divisions in the department and key leaders in the organization to ensure proper supervision and accountability of our staff to also ensure that calls for service are handled properly and with our service-centered approach.”

Because of the authority DPS has on campus, the University has implemented training, hiring and accountability practices to mitigate issues of racism and bias. 

“This should be a community where people are able to carry out their work, do their teaching, do their research and their learning in a very safe environment,” Carey said. “I think that we’ve tried to put together over the course of many years organizations, processes, policies, resources to support that.”

Porter also spoke on how DPS emphasizes community-based policing. “Our role is more prevention than it is enforcement, operating as the guardians of the community, not the warriors,” he said. 

All DPS officers are given implicit bias, cultural diversity, de-escalation and communications training, and participate in roleplaying and scenario-based training, Porter said. Additionally, DPS conducts community surveys, is overseen by the Public Safety Oversight Council and BUCC and must keep up with its accreditation requirements. 

DPS has also created oversight and transparency programs that release data on field and traffic stops and formalized a complaint process. A field stop is an “interaction where somebody has been asked by an officer to stop to identify themselves and to engage that officer,” Carey explained. Traffic stops are largely focused on pedestrian safety. 

“We want to see that data collected so we can certainly know…if there’s any issues or disparities,” Porter said. DPS created an inquiry form on their website where individuals can submit an inquiry about an issue with a field stop they were involved in. “We’ve had no disparities in our data in terms of looking at that, and we’ve been viewing that now for a number of years.”

“The tone of voice in those interactions, the questions that are asked (and) the perceptions of both the person being asked or the officer asking them” are other factors that the University focuses on, Carey said.

DPS officers do not currently wear body cameras, Porter said in response to a question for a community member, but that is a topic that the University anticipates discussing in the coming months. 

“I would be really open to that provided the privacy concerns can be overcome in a way that our community is comfortable with,” Paxson said. 

In response to another community question regarding use of force, Porter said that DPS officers have been armed since 2006 in case of situations such as armed robbery or assault. But in that time, an officer has never discharged a firearm. 

Any use of force is reviewed to “ensure that it was appropriate,” Carey said.

Carey also explained that DPS does share some jurisdiction with the Providence Police Department, which is able to respond to issues around campus. In certain situations, such as an active shooter situation, PPD would be the primary responder. 

“Our (DPS) officers know our campus, they know our students, they know our community,” Paxson said. “That matters a lot to me because I think, at the end, that keeps us safer and better able to make sure we have excellent policing.” 

Still, Paxson made clear that the University intends to continue the dialogue with its students and the rest of the Brown community at large. “We will have opportunities in the spring, to do things, express concerns and share ideas and discuss our vision for safety and security going forward,” she said. “This is the beginning of a longer conversation.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that residential peer leaders will conduct wellness checks. In fact, area coordinators will conduct wellness checks. The Herald regrets the error.

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