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BUCC members discuss selection of new DPS chief

Members recommend evaluating what policing, community wellness should look like on campus

Members of the University’s administration and student body discussed the selection process and criteria for a new chief of Public Safety at the Brown University Community Council meeting Feb. 10. 

The University is beginning this search in the months after Mark Porter, executive director and chief of Public Safety, announced that he will resign from his position in June, The Herald previously reported. The search will be conducted by a committee chaired by Russell Carey '91 MA'06, executive vice president for planning and policy, and Barbara Chernow, executive vice president for finance and administration.

The committee — composed of students, staff and faculty members — will work in conjunction with an outside search consultant Pamela Bol Riess ’87 in place of a more traditional law enforcement search firm. “We wanted to work with someone who we know and trust and who knows Brown,” Carey said. 

Because Porter announced his resignation several months in advance of his departure, the University has the opportunity to engage in a conversation with community members about the future of the Department of Public Safety, Carey explained. This BUCC meeting was the first opportunity for community members to express ideas and to ask questions about the process. 

This community-oriented approach “is, in my view, a critical foundation for the search in terms of identifying priorities, not just for the chief and the director of the department but for campus safety” more broadly, Carey added. “That will then inform the committee in terms of candidates that we should be looking for (and) who can best lead the department in a manner that's commensurate with those principles.”

The University has not set an exact timeline for the hiring process, but Carey said that there is enough time to do a thorough national search before Porter’s departure in June. 

President Christina Paxson P ’19 began the discussion by establishing four guiding principles, which include conducting work at a high standard of professional excellence, cultivating equitable treatment of others, being transparent and staying accountable to the Brown community.

“We're at an inflection point, we're looking to the future,” Paxson said about applying these principles to the search. “We have an opportunity to say, you know, ‘do we want to take a more expansive view of this, do we want to think differently’?”

Associate Professor of Sociology Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, who researches policing in America, said in the meeting that the concept of professional excellence in many police departments around the country is based in an “insular culture that conceals misconduct.” 

“As a community, we can really put a stake here and decide: What does it mean to envision what professional excellence is for the kind of wellness principles that we outlined upfront?” Gonzalez Van Cleve said. “That is not how policing in America operates, but I think there's something very exciting about Brown being an innovator and a thought leader on this national dialogue.”

Former Chief Legal Officer Beverly Ledbetter pointed out the importance of setting expectations for the role before beginning a search. Other BUCC members expanded on her point to emphasize the necessity of defining what “professional excellence” means in the context of the University, as well as envisioning what campus wellness as a whole should look like.

“We want a community where everyone, regardless of what they look like, who they are …  feel(s) safe, feels like they belong (and) feels this is a community that sees them for who they are,” Provost Richard Locke P ’18 said. 

Additionally, Gonzalez Van Cleve brought up the importance of considering the future chief’s police training, and how that would adapt to the Brown community.

Police professionals, she said, typically have gone through “very militaristic training” in police academies and programs that train “officers to look for suspicious people — which is often code for people of color or people who are poor, which leads to bias, which leads to misconduct. If we were to redefine (the approach to policing) as a community, what types of skills, for instance, would we be looking for?”

Donnell Williamson GS  raised the idea of defining what public safety means at the University and considering that police and public safety are not necessarily synonymous. Other BUCC members pointed out that a University is a different environment from a city with different public safety needs, and expressed interest in furthering connections between health and wellness resources and DPS on campus.

There was also discussion of ensuring that the chief would be open to conversations with students and other community members about what public safety on campus should look like. City Councilman John Goncalves emphasized the importance of centering marginalized communities in the conversation.

Also at the meeting, Paxson gave a President’s Report on various campus announcements and initiatives.

She praised the low rates of COVID-19 in the University community and reviewed news from last week’s Corporation meeting, including a tuition increase and the reinstatement of faculty merit raises and retirement contribution matching. “Our projected budget deficit is coming in the lower range to where we were afraid it might be,” Paxson said. “Restoring that (retirement contribution) match seemed very important to members of our community.”

At last week’s meeting, the Corporation approved a resumed effort to design the new Brook Street residence hall, which is one step toward the University’s goal of eventually housing 80 percent of undergraduate students on campus and alleviating student-generated pressure off of the surrounding housing market. 

Paxson also discussed new variants of COVID-19 that have surfaced around the country.  “If we see (infection) rates start to go up, and especially if we learn that the variants for infectious variants are in the neighborhood, we would at that point pull back to Phase One if we have to,” Paxson said. 

While there is not yet a timeline for vaccinating students, staff or faculty, the University will soon launch a vaccine education campaign so that “when people are able to be vaccinated, they will feel comfortable stepping up and doing that,” Paxson added.

Discussing the Anti-Black Racism Task Force, Paxson said that the group is chaired by Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Shontay Delalue and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Andre Willis. Recommendations from the task force are likely to come out this semester.

In addition, the University has created an Academic Continuity Group, chaired by Locke, to oversee the next few semesters, including the atypical summer semester. A new Faculty Advancement Working Group will help advance the scholarship of junior faculty and help them work toward tenure. A third committee will examine how the University can emerge from the pandemic financially stable in the face of growing costs, according to Paxson’s report.

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