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Plan calls for reduction in excessive policing of students of color by public safety

The Black Action Plan—a community-formulated list of demands from students of color on campus—is seeking to change the university’s policing strategy to stop excessive policing of students of color. The student-run group has called for reform and defunding of Brandeis Public Safety as well as structural changes to how the department patrols campus, according to the plan.  

The plan highlights the excessive policing of students of color on Brandeis’ campus by the Brandeis police, and brings up concerns introduced by two previous student protests: Ford Hall 2015 and Still Concerned 2019. These concerns include a desire to strengthen community engagement methods with students of color, offer more sensitive options of transportation for students during emergencies and have the Brandeis police use body cameras, according to the plan

“Our goal in reimagining public safety will prioritize increased transparency and accountability, greater communication, enhanced training, and updated response protocols,” according to the plan.

The plan also demands the removal of Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Ed Callahan “from all interactions with the department of Public Safety due to over policing Black students for over 40 years,” according to the plan. Callahan announced his plans to retire as director and chief of police during the summer of 2020, according to a July 20 email from Vice President of Campus Operations Lois Stanley. 

Callahan will continue to serve as director until his successor is found, and a search committee has been formed to find his replacement, according to a Sept. 29 email from Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky. The search process is set to conclude in the spring of 2021, and “we [the committee] are committed to having a high degree of inclusivity and transparency,” reads the email.  

The plan also demands the enforcement of the “Reform, Shift + Build Act,” a bill that was passed in the Massachusetts State House in July. The bill is “an act to reform police standards and shift resources to build a more equitable, fair and just commonwealth that values Black lives and communities of color,” according to the bill’s description. As part of the act, the Black Action Plan calls for Brandeis public safety to be restructured in accordance with the bill. 

The Brandeis Police union should only have the ability to “negotiate wages, benefits and hours with the university,” reads the plan. “The university should establish disciplinary measures for police pertaining to certain policing strategies.” The plan also states that negotiations between the university and the Brandeis Police union should be held publicly, “where Brandeis community members can further voice and enforce the non-negotiable rules set by the university.” The Brandeis University Police Association is represented by the American Coalition of Public Safety (ACOPS) Local 20 in which the university does collectively bargaining agreements, according to their website

Brandeis should be a “fire free zone,” according to the plan, with no armed police officers at parties or student club events. In the case that a gun is pulled, the Brandeis police should keep record of which police members pulled their weapons, according to the plan. “All guns must be labelled and if a gun is taken this should be recorded along with the circumstances and all involved parties,” reads the plan. The purpose of reporting is to help identify when and why guns are being used on campus to help compile data about Brandeis-specific police-student interactions. 

The Firearms Safety Advisory Committee, composed of students, staff and faculty members, which met during the summer of 2007 after the Virginia Tech Massacre, unanimously recommended that former President Jehuda Reinharz “arm our Public Safety Officers” as soon as possible, according to a report to the Firearms Safety Advisory Committee from May 2008. Reinharz accepted the recommendation and police officers on campus were officially armed on June 2, 2008. They were armed with Glock 40-caliber automatic handguns, which are also used by Waltham police officers and Bentley University police officers, according to a Wicked Local Waltham article

The plan also calls for the hiring of a director of reporting and engagement in the department of public safety, who will collect student reports on interactions with Brandeis police officers and be an advocate for reporting students. There is also a call for a form for students to share their accounts of interactions with Brandeis police about a situation that is being reported on. Brandeis has an online reporting form for discrimination, harassment or sexual violence provided by the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO), according to the OEO’s website.

The public safety phone call directory should be operated by a call center that can refer callers to the most appropriate resources for them (Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps, Brandeis police, permits, etc.) instead of having one centralized system. Currently, all emergency calls to the Brandeis police are done through one phone number, with additional lines for general business, administrative offices, detective bureau, escort service and parking and traffic, according to their website

The university is already “reconsidering current reporting mechanisms and examining whether a differentiated response model to first-responder calls could be more effective,” according to a Sept. 29 sent out by Uretsky. 

The plan also calls for the hiring of more social health and mental health workers during night shifts. “Brandeis Police, Area Coordinators, Community Advisors and Deans do not have the proper qualifications to handle mental health situations,” the plan adds.

The Department of Community Living (DCL) announced attempts to scale back “wellness checks” for any other reason than an immediate health and safety concern to prevent students from feeling unnecessarily policed by the university. The department plans to discuss the issue further as a part of its recent anti-racist initiative

The plan also calls for the need of a female-identifying officer on call. The current Brandeis website does not specifically disclose the number of male-identifying and female-identifying police officers or the number of Brandeis police officers on the current force, though one female officer, appearing in a 2017 orientation video, remains on a Brandeis list of Public Safety employees.

The plan also outlines methods for strengthening community engagement methods with students of color, which include a meet and greet panel with the freshman class during orientation, monthly town hall meetings where the department will provide updates and students can give feed and monthly community engagement events where officers and students can interact “casually in a positive, non-threatening, community building manner,” according to the plan. An open student forum about student safety was co-hosted by the Student Union and the Office of the vice president for student affairs in Dec. 2017, which gave students the opportunity to speak with a group of members of the administration about their concerns for student safety on campus and to have an open discussion about how safety could be improved. 

The plan also calls for more information on the website detailing members of the Brandeis police force and information about how investigations are conducted by the department. The plan also calls for de-escalation training, which includes an annual anti-systemic racism training. 

In addition to the trainings, “A diverse array of students should be recruited and paid during this training to provide feedback on the skills that are being taught to officers,” reads the plan. The plan also calls for “a focus group with Brandeis Black students and students of color to curate a training forum which candidly and specifically addresses best cultural practices to de-escalate situations in manners that do not lead to racially charged trauma.”

In 2008, the Firearms Safety Advisory Committee met with representatives from E. Wallace Coyle Associates that helped create and provide a skills-development workshop “Managing Cultural Diversity at Brandeis” for public safety officers, according to the report. The program addressed how to deal with cultural differences and groups, how to understand body language in community and different personality styles and how to deal with different values and communication styles. Public safety officers that attended the seminar were better able to “recognize diversity and its importance in the university community, understand how to bring individuals together in problem resolution, work through actual conflict case resolution and improve listening and speaking skills in helping staff,” according to the report. It is unclear if this workshop has been administered since 2008. 

This is the third part in a series explaining the Black Action Plan and its implications on campus.

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