Tools Search Main Menu

Message from President Seligman on the Security Commission Report

Date:         October 13, 2016

To:             The University Community
From:        Joel Seligman
Re:            Security Commission Report      

Today I am adopting the recommendations of the Security Commission Report as proposed. 

We remain a very safe campus and I do not believe that there is evidence today to justify arming officers throughout the entire campus. Of our 180 Department of Public Safety officers, none will be armed for routine assignments on the River Campus, at the Eastman School of Music, or on other non-Medical Center campuses.

The situation in the Medical Center, particularly the Emergency Department, is different.  I am persuaded that it would be wise to take steps to deter the potential of unacceptable violence to our employees, patients, and visitors, and I am authorizing the arming of 38 Department of Public Safety officers in the Medical Center to address safety concerns on a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week basis.  This will provide an ongoing public safety presence in the Emergency Department, foot patrols throughout designated areas in the Medical Center, and a vehicle assigned to the Medical Center.  These officers except in emergency circumstances would be present solely in the Medical Center.  In reaching this conclusion, it is worth recognizing that armed officers from the Rochester Police Department and other law enforcement agencies sometimes today are in the Emergency Department, but that they are not present in the Department on a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week basis. 

I also will support arming the four senior officers of the Department of Public Safety, specifically the Chief, Deputy Chief, Patrol Commander, and Commander of Investigations.  These four officers would be armed at all times when on duty, including when present on the River Campus or at the Eastman School of Music on a routine basis.  These officers would be expected to be among the first responders in any emergency situation.  While our campuses generally are quite safe, there have been isolated incidents such as the kidnapping of two of our undergraduates last December that cannot be ignored.  It is clear from exercises with other law enforcement departments that our officers will be able to respond more rapidly in an emergency than those in the Rochester Police Department or other law enforcement agencies.  In an emergency, rapid response by Public Safety officers is critically important.

No Department of Public Safety officers would be armed before additional rigorous psychological screening and training occurs, including training in bias and diversity and de-escalation of confrontations without weapons deployment.  These steps will have to be completed before armed Department of Public Safety officers operate anywhere on our campus.  In Appendix 6 of the Security Commission Report, there is a description of Training Detail and Bias and Diversity Training for the entire Department of Public Safety.  I will want this and related aspects of our procedures to be carefully reviewed before arming officers and the results of this review reported to the University President.  The aspiration is to have what will be fairly perceived to be best practices for our Department of Public Safety.  

I also will require a five-year review of our Department of Public Safety, including a review of the recommendations made in this Security Commission Report. 

To avoid the possibility of any misuse of weapons on campus, I today also am creating a Public Safety Review Board, which initially and for a three-year term will be chaired by Francis Price of the University Board of Trustees.  The Review Board will periodically review our selection, training, cultural sensitivity, de-escalation procedures, terms of engagement, and gun safety measures.  It will also provide an independent review of any future instance of use of a weapon by an officer of the Department of Public Safety and review each instance of a complaint of racial bias in the Department consistent with existing University policies and procedures.  The Review Board will report to the University President.

The membership of the Public Safety Review Board will be approved annually and will include the chair or one of the co-chairs of the Faculty Senate; a Medical Center faculty member and a Medical Center student, resident, or fellow selected by the Executive Committee of the Medical Center Institute for Innovative Education; the president or a delegate selected by the Students’ Association; and on a permanent basis, the Associate Vice President for Human Resources, who will be expected to be a conduit for staff views, the Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance, and the Chief Operating Officer of Strong Memorial Hospital.  I will expect all members of the new Review Board to be selected by November 1 of this year and in subsequent years no later than October 1.  The Public Safety Review Board annually will prepare a report for the President that subsequently will be published for the University community on its principal findings and recommendations.  The Office of General Counsel will provide staff support for the Review Board.  The Review Board will be expected to meet with or receive reports from the Department of Public Safety and all other relevant parties as necessary to effectively perform its work.

A number of those who commented on the Security Commission report recommended a review board, including a consensus recommendation of the Faculty Senate.  A few of our peer institutions such as Vanderbilt and Northwestern in recent years have established similar university or community review committees. 

I today further am directing the Medical Center and the Department of Public Safety to review whether metal detectors should be installed at the public entrances to the Emergency Department in Strong Memorial Hospital.  Metal detectors are not feasible to install unless there are armed security officers present.

I considered other ameliorative measures but do not believe that it would be wise to implement them at this time.  A few comments suggested that we deploy tasers in addition to or rather than arming Department of Public Safety officers.  Five years ago this alternative was seriously considered, but we decided not to pursue it because of concern that tasers might be overused and were sometimes more dangerous than is commonly believed.  In discussion before the Security Commission this time, it was clear from the Commission’s review that tasers also may not be an effective deterrent to an individual with a gun.

I also considered body cameras.  A small number of universities have implemented body cameras as is delineated in Attachment 9 to the Security Commission report.  Most of our armed officers will work in the Medical Center and there are complex issues of medical privacy that would be involved in using body cameras there.  I believe that an effective Public Safety Review Board may provide the same or greater reassurance than body cameras sometimes do.  At least at this time, I will not require body cameras, but this is an issue that the Review Board may wish to consider and make recommendations for subsequent reconsideration. 

Few, if any, issues have received the level of review of these Security Commission recommendations.  In the eight months that the Security Commission took to prepare its recommendations, the Commission met on several occasions with representatives of the Department of Public Safety, the Emergency and other departments of Strong Memorial Hospital, faculty, students, and staff of the University, and in six town hall meetings held on the River Campus, at the Eastman School of Music, and at the Medical Center.  The Board of Trustees was briefed by the Security Commission in August. 

In the period after the Security Commission recommendations were forwarded to me on September 7, I participated in town hall meetings at the River Campus on two occasions, the Medical Center, and the Eastman School of Music.  I also discussed this issue with the University Cabinet, the Faculty Senate, and the University Management Team, and on two occasions discussed this issue during telephonic meetings with the Board of Trustees.

I invited confidential comments from anyone in the University community whether faculty, students, or staff and received 168 e mail comments that expressed an opinion either favoring or opposing adoption of the Security Commission recommendations.  In a few other instances, parents also wrote to me.  I am deeply grateful to those who commented on these recommendations or participated in the town hall and other meetings.  Their stories on all sides were often heartfelt and poignant. 

Let me offer a description of the information that was conveyed in the e mails.  Ninety-eight comments (or 58 percent) of those who wrote e mails to me favored adopting the recommendations of the Security Commission as proposed.  Seventy comments (or 42 percent) opposed adopting the recommendations in whole or in part.  A majority of the comments originated in the Medical Center, where 54 comments (or 59 percent) favored adopting the recommendations and 37 comments (or 41 percent) opposed adopting the recommendations in whole or in part.  Throughout the rest of the University, 44 comments (or 57 percent) favored adopting the recommendations, 33 comments (or 43 percent) opposed adopting the recommendations in whole or in part.  

There was other relevant evidence.  I explained when I circulated the recommendations of the Security Commission to the University community on September 8:

We are one University.  But we have multiple campuses.  [The] security concerns in the Medical Center, particularly in its Emergency Department, are quite different than elsewhere in our University.  Between 2013 and 2015, for example, an average of 230 knives, 8 guns and 33 others weapons were confiscated each year in the Medical Center.  In contrast, on all other University campuses combined, an average of 9 knives, 1 gun and 7 other weapons were confiscated each year between 2013 and 2015.

These data were amplified by comments made at the town hall meetings and in the confidential e mails.  There were two primary narratives in these oral and written comments.  Several comments, often from employees in the Emergency Department, described a department that is less safe today than a few years ago.  One medical professional noted that they now deal with 350 gunshot wounds each year and that there has been a rise in gang activity, which primarily involves the University through the Emergency Department.  Emergency Department employees described instances of having weapons pulled on them or being threatened or assaulted.  Comments from members of our Department of Public Safety also stressed their belief that they were less safe in situations where they had to confront individuals with weapons.  A small number of comments favored arming officers throughout the entire campus.

There was a second primary narrative in the town hall meetings and confidential e mails reflecting a deep concern held by some faculty, students, and staff that arming officers might make our campus less safe and that instances of racial or other biases or racial profiling that have been prominent in news stories elsewhere in the country might occur here.  Some individuals noted that there have been too many instances nation-wide where armed officers have overreacted to a situation and caused unnecessary deaths or injury.  A few posed questions asking how we can mitigate racial tension if at the same time we arm officers in the Medical Center

There has been a substantial increase in recent years in the number of peer institutions that have armed at least some sworn officers.  The University of Rochester today is the only Association of American Universities institution with sworn officers that has no armed officers among the 60 AAU members.  In a four-year period, from 2011 to 2015, there was, according to the data presented in Attachment 7 to the Security Commission Report, only one instance of an unjustified use of force on 4,140 universities and colleges and no such instance on an AAU campus.  While these data are circumstantial and do not by themselves definitively prove that arming officers deters violence committed by other individuals, they provide evidence that concerns about deterring violence has led to a near-universal response in our peer institutions.  So far as I can tell, in no instance involving a peer institution has there been a report of a misuse of a weapon by an officer of a university department of public safety. 

In contrast to some municipal police departments, our Department of Public Safety is more diverse and better trained in de-escalation and cultural sensitivity.  Attachment 8 to the Security Commission Report summarizes complaints of Department of Public Safety Racial and/or Bias between 2014 and May 2016.  No complaint involved a misuse of force.    

Safety of all those on our campus is the most important consideration in making these decisions.  This means safety both in the sense that there are increased concerns expressed by those in the Emergency Department and elsewhere in the Medical Center concerning their safety and also that all on our campus should feel safe.  The decision to arm 38 officers in the Medical Center is directly responsive to the concerns of many in the Emergency and sometimes other departments based upon a pattern of actual behavior.  Our Department of Public Safety is specifically trained to understand the culture of our University.  The combination of the deterrent of some officers in the Emergency Department being armed potentially combined with metal detectors will enable all who work or proceed through the Emergency Department and elsewhere in the Medical Center to receive the type of protection that has become standard in most of our peer institutions today.  

The Public Safety Review Board also will establish an important means to ensure to our University community that weapons are not abused by our Department of Public Safety.  I have a high level of confidence in the officers who work in the Department of Public Safety.  They are professionals who are committed to protecting our community and being part of our community.  It is important nonetheless that there be accountability measures so all on our campus also will feel confident in our transparency and insistence on never abusing power. 

Let me especially thank Holly Crawford and the members of the Security Commission for their hard and thoughtful work on their recommendations.  I deeply appreciate their insistence on taking sufficient time to meet with a broad array of individuals in our University community who had relevant testimony to offer for their consideration.