USC should undertake a “top-to-bottom re-envisioning” of the campus public safety system, with an eye toward developing alternative responses to non-violent, non-emergency situations, allowing the Department of Public Safety to focus on the most serious calls for help, according to a report released Wednesday by an advisory committee.
The Community Advisory Board that prepared the report was charged by USC President Carol Folt with examining public safety practices on campus, helping to address “broader social inequalities” and bolstering trust between “the university, DPS and the broader community.”
Its creation followed waves of civil unrest triggered largely by the death of George Floyd during his arrest by Minneapolis police. Floyd’s death set off a national reckoning on police brutality and law-enforcement treatment of communities of color.
According to the USC report, a review of 1,050 stops by DPS officers in 2019-20 found that 31.7% of them involved Black people, even though they represent just 1% of the USC population at the Health Sciences campus and 12% at the University Park campus.
“Since DPS does not currently require officers to log all officer-initiated stops, we consider this a conservative — meaning low — estimate of what young Black people experience in and around USC,” according to the report, which also suggests that Black people “are being surveilled and stopped repeatedly.”
The report, prepared over 10 months that included engagement with more than 700 students, faculty and staff members, along with current and former law enforcement officers and university neighbors, focused on the concept of the existence of “two USCs.” In that context, one USC is a place where people feel safer thanks to DPS, while the other “feels less safe with DPS around.”
The CAB ultimately recommended that the a “top-to-bottom re-envisioning of safety” take place, “to re-design DPS to focus on protecting us from the most violent crimes, which continue to be very rare in and around our campuses.”
“We also envision a broader definition of safety that would leverage the talents and resources of the entire university community to properly address cases involving mental health and homelessness …,” the report states. “… Our analysis of DPS’s mandate clearly suggests that over the years, adding to DPS’s plate has been based more on its standing as the only 24-hour campus agency rather than a deliberative process about whether it is the right resource to respond to tasks like lockouts, wellness checks, routine parking violations and lost and found.”
The panel also recommended the creation of an independent DPS oversight body, noting that “any agency that investigates itself won’t typically find a lot that is wrong.” The report recommends that the proposed oversight panel review complaints lodged against DPS, analyze data on DPS stops and provide input on the agency’s budget.
“We strongly urge President Folt and the USC Board of Trustees to implement a process for developing a `One USC’ community safety vision,” according to the report. “Without implementation of the many recommendations we discuss in this report, we are not convinced that USC will successfully improve trust or ensure an environment where everyone feels safe.”
In a message to the USC community, Folt said an “implementation team” has already been formed to assess the nearly four-dozen recommendations in the report “in a way that respects all our community members, continues to protect our campuses, strengthens accountability and transparency and appropriately allocates resources.”