Safety on Campus

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We write this letter for several reasons: First, to support our students in their protests and actions to make Campus Safety accountable to the Occidental Community; second, to provide an account of the incident that triggered this action; and third to reiterate students’  calls for Campus Safety to operate in tandem with the mission of our college.

On September 5th an incident at the Green Bean led to the arrest of a community member. Given the circumstances surrounding this and the fact that the individual involved was by several accounts differently-abled, the actions taken by Campus Safety sparked an outcry. Besides protesting the seeming lack of inclusivity and compassion on the part of Campus Safety, students have also taken the lead in offering concrete solutions and calling for broader policy discussions regarding the role and tactics of Campus Safety.

Fully recognizing that Campus Safety does not ‘make’ policy, we echo students’ calls to have the Administration provide greater coherency and transparency regarding relevant policy. As a community, we need greater information about officer training (especially with respect to how incidents among students and campus guests are handled), and how that training encourages cognizance of the many manifestations of diversity in our community. Moreover, we wonder what specific mechanisms are in place to facilitate oversight and accountability of Campus Safety by administrators and, in turn, what training the same administrators receive to prepare them for such oversight.

These are not new issues, many of us recall similar incidents in the past. However, given the palpable shift in the “tone” of how our campus is policed, amid the national concerns and issues around biased policing, now is the time for us to act. Consider that our campus officers wear flak jackets and carry visible policing equipment. Campus Safety gives the appearance of a ready-response unit geared towards surveillance and control rather than a community safety/service unit. To boot, there is the more visible presence of the LAPD in the campus vicinity, including the presence of unmarked police cars. We believe every member of the College community, particularly Campus Safety, needs to have clear and transparent guidelines about when to call the LAPD. Judging from the actions taken in the most recent incident, and the (un)predictability with which police use deadly force, we believe our policies and practices should prioritize de-escalation over zealous action.

Some will undoubtedly point to the campus tragedies and associated violence that have taken place (e.g., Virginia Tech) to justify a fortifying of a more aggressive type of campus police force. No one would argue with the need for preparation and training for such an event, but to put forth such a defensive stance as the baseline for everyday campus policing breeds fear and paranoia. We don’t want Virginia Tech, nor do we want the University of Cincinnati. We’ve been better — we know how to be better — and that should be our baseline.

As Occidental works to develop our relationship to our surrounding community, the College needs to pay attention to the attitudes embedded in our policies and practices around issues of safety and security. This incident and the subsequent reactions make visible the need for open conversations about philosophies and approaches between Campus Safety, the administrators who oversee this sector, and the rest of the campus community. Is Oxy’s model more similar to community-based policing in which officers work with the community to increase safety and trust — consider Campus Safety’s broad success under Joe Cunje — or is it a model that focuses on surveillance and control? How might this latter model work against community policing that intentionally builds trust? How has Oxy interrogated notions of how unconscious biases based on markers such as race, gender, sexuality, class, and ability shape policing?

Following our students, we call on Campus Safety and the administration to make a public commitment to evaluating and engaging in discourse with the rest of the community about policies regarding surveillance, protocols, and mental mindsets. We invite friends and colleagues across campus to join this call.

 

– CODE Faculty

 

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