Black Action Plan creators propose alternative to public safety

December 4, 2020

Members of the Black Action Plan, Sonali Anderson ’22 and DeBorah Ault ’22, proposed a new “Campus Safety Alliance” as an alternative to the current Brandeis police department in an effort to defund the campus police, the organizers discussed during an event on Nov. 12. The tentatively named Campus Safety Alliance would be a collected group of “mental health professionals, unarmed de escalation specialists, medics, a restorative justice director, an education resource center coordinator, a Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCo) management staff, transportation director and a phone call directory” which would replace the current Public Safety roles, explained Ault.

Creators of the Black Action Plan hope to remove the requirement that public safety officers carry firearms on them, hire more trained mental health advisors instead of additional police officers and have more qualified Brandeis Counseling Center (BCC) staff and social workers available to students after business hours to report issues, instead of directly to Brandeis police, they explained during the open forum. 

To change the Brandeis Police structure, the presenters called for additional trainings, including mandatory de-escalation training and yearly anti-racism training. The student leaders also called for mandatory background information on police staff, a formal review board made of students and administration and more concrete consequences for any violations, according to their slides.  

Anderson and Ault added that it would be difficult to change the current job description and add training for police officers because they are unionized under contract and have the ability to demand compensation or refuse to work beyond what is stated in their contract. The American Coalition of Public Safety (ACOPS) Local 20 represents the Brandeis University Police Association and assists with their collective bargaining agreements, according to their website

The student leaders noted the university’s “dependency” on Public Safety. Aside from first responder obligations, public safety also manages BEMCo, van and shuttle services and parking, according to the presentation.

“The Brandeis Police are sort of a call center for the university, and they oftentimes respond to any calls that are done after hours,” Ault explained. “Their professional training hasn’t really provided them with the professional development to answer phone calls well and effectively.”

Anderson and Ault proposed an alternative to responding to liquor law or drug abuse violations where mental health professionals and a medic would be the primary first responders to help treat and address trauma the individual, or other eyewitnesses, may have endured.

“Having this response duo offers a more holistic response since police officers are ill-equipped to assist in addressing the physical and mental challenges created with instances of liquor law violations,” said Ault. 

From 2016 to 2018, 90 percent of the calls that public safety officers responded to were liquor law or drug abuse violations, according to the 2019 Annual Fire Safety and Security Report. There were no arrests made on any individual with liquor law or drug abuse violations; rather, they received disciplinary action, according to the report.  

Three percent of the Brandeis Police first responses, from 2016 to 2018, were Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and sex offenses, according to the report. Two percent of responses were aggravated assault and burglary, according to the report. Ault noted that they do not know the exact proceedings of how Public Safety approaches these types of situations. However, Ault said, “Offenses of these natures are usually responded to rather than prevented.” 

The student leaders proposed an alternative for responding to these types of offences, which would include a primary and secondary responder. The primary responder, like in liquor law or drug abuse violations, would be a mental health professional and a medic, said Ault. If needed, said Ault, there can also be a de-escalation specialist if the situation requires one. The secondary responders would pursue to launch an investigation, once the situation has been stabilized, according to Ault. 

There were two reported instances of hate crimes from 2016-2018, according to the report. To address these types of situations, the student leaders proposed preventative measures and unique responses to interpersonal hate crimes and campus wide threats. 

“I believe hate crimes occur because individuals don’t understand the background of another person, and they are struggling with how the social status of different people operates,” said Ault during the presentation. The preventative measures would attempt to decrease the likelihood of hate crimes by providing an educational space where students can have conversations cross culturally. 

Interpersonal hate crimes would be responded to with restorative justice methods, according to the presentation. This would correct the harm done to the individual victim as well as the community as a whole, according to the presentation. For campus wide threats, the student leaders proposed that external police be called to campus to handle the situation in lue of public safety, according to the slides. 

“Among all these new ideas, the core is community building and ultimately connecting students with what they need,” said Anderson. 

The Black Action Plan’s goal in transforming public safety “will prioritize increased transparency and accountability, greater communication, enhanced training, and updated responses protocols,” according to the plan. Previous coverage by The Hoot detailing concerns brought forth by community members about public safety and demands by the Black Action Plan in regards to public safety can be found here.

Sabrina Chow contributed to the reporting of this article.

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