Brandeis Public Safety fails to meet student demands
For the past few years, University Police has received a lot of criticism for their lack of transparency and resolution to their discriminatory practices. This board feels that there hasn’t been sufficient change in improving their procedures, both in efficiency and effectiveness. University Police officers are known among the student body for their hostile responses to student needs. This has recently been exemplified by negative police interactions recounted by three students sources.
One member of this board was locked out of their dormitory around 2 a.m. Following the lock-out protocols, they called the Department of Community Living, and after their calls went unanswered, they called University Police. The officer picked up in an unenthused manner, ultimately transferring the board member back to DCL knowing that they didn’t pick up the first time. The board member then proceeded to call the University Police several more times, but their calls were ignored. Finally, the officer picked up and said they would contact the Area Coordinator, hanging up before the board member could respond and before giving them information about when the Area Coordinator would arrive. The Area Coordinator came to their aid 30 minutes later.
This board is not only appalled by this behavior coming from the University Police but is also equally concerned by the response had this been an emergency. If someone in a more critical situation or in need of immediate assistance had been ignored like this board member was, there would have been dire consequences, and seeing this response from University Police lessens our trust in their ability to handle crises.
Two board members recount being locked in a hallway of the Shapiro Science Center. Needing ID access to exit either entrance of that hallway and forgetting their ID elsewhere, these board members were stuck there for two hours. They called University Police for assistance. Although the officer attempted to look for them, the police called back shortly afterwards saying they couldn’t find them, leaving the board members to call someone else who knew the area better to get them out. Once again, this board is concerned about the University Police’s inability to properly assist students, which becomes a concern for the student body.
EB ’22, a student who wishes to remain anonymous, recalls an incident involving a man from outside the Brandeis community who made them uncomfortable and knew the location of their dorm. After contacting Public Safety, the responding officer made them feel “very embarrassed and naive for my actions. This victim-blaming behavior did nothing to help my situation,” they told the Justice. This response by the University Police, whose mission is to ensure the safety of all members of the Brandeis community, further highlights inefficiencies and faults in this department. The board acknowledges that there have been some institutional changes that have directly affected the University Police, and we understand that there is a transitional period in order to properly implement these changes. For example, the primary responsibility in responding to lock-outs has shifted from the University Police to DCL as a step in the Black Action Plan. . However, our board members have noticed that this has been met with bitterness from University Police officers.
Aside from the newly implemented lock-out procedure, the University’s response to the #StillConcernedStudents movement in 2019 lays out two other concrete ways in which the University is working towards “Public Safety Accountability”: by “[ending] excessive policing of student of color organizations via hiring students for student activities,” and monitoring “social media sites that target members of our community.” This is a great step towards addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, but this board is disappointed in the short list of solutions created specifically for the University Police Department. Especially with their history of racist policing, the other items of the University’s Anti-Racism Plan regarding Public Safety do not seem adequate in resolving the problem at hand. For example, “reviewing policies and procedures annually,” or “improving communication,” are both broad and obvious, and even so, these changes do not seem to be occurring. In addition, Brandeis has taken steps to meet only two of the over two dozen demands involving changes to Public Safety listed in the Black Action Plan. Further, Public Safety’s Anti-Racism Plan is difficult to find on the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion website, as it is not obvious to check under the “Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Office” tab. This is bad enough; however, it’s also discouraging that the Public Safety’s website does not have any acknowledgement of their own Anti-Racism Plan, making it seem more like a University-mandated change rather than their own. This board calls on Public Safety to take the demands laid out in the Black Action Plan seriously in order for all Brandeis students to feel safe on campus.
Chief of Public Safety Matthew Rushton wrote in a March 7 email to the Justice that Public Safety will have a training this month on “Kingian Non-Violence, based on Dr. King’s fundamental philosophy of nonviolence.” Rushton wrote that Prof. Ted Johnson (Heller) would lead the training. Though this board was glad to see this response from Public Safety, there are still many policies and reforms that are unclear. In particular, Rushton’s email included a vague blurb on an upcoming collaboration with Lyft “to support students with an alternative means of transportation that does not involve the use of police officers.” This board is hoping that Public Safety will be able to provide more information on this and other programs moving forward.
This board is also concerned with the pace at which these reforms are happening. “Next year, we will begin a comprehensive strategic planning process that entails community input toward achieving consensus on the role, mission, vision and values for campus safety,” Rushton wrote. This has already been a multi-year process. We believe that the University’s efforts to reform Public Safety and make students feel safer on campus have been insufficient. The pace at which reforms are taking place is not proportional to the urgency of the situation — student safety must be a priority.