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Message from President Feldman Regarding DPS Proposal

To the University Community,

Late last year, Senior Vice President Holly Crawford, Trustee and Public Safety Review Board (PSRB) Chair Francis Price, and I established a broadly representative ad hoc committee to review the viability and appropriateness of a proposal brought forward to the Public Safety Review Board by the University’s Department of Public Safety (DPS). (The DPS proposal can be found here: http://www.publicsafety.rochester.edu/APOProgram.pdf.) This committee, formally known as the Public Safety Proposal Advisory Committee, completed its work several weeks ago and presented its report to the PSRB. The PSRB, in turn, met twice to consider and discuss the committee’s findings before developing its own recommendations for me, as the final decisionmaker. The full committee report, with an executive summary, and the PSRB recommendations can be found on the Public Safety Review Board website: https://www.rochester.edu/public-safety-review-board/.

The DPS proposal consisted of two parts: (1) allowing armed DPS supervisors unrestricted access to all parts of the campus; and (2) adding one armed officer in a vehicle on River Campus, one armed officer in a vehicle on University properties west of the Genesee River, and one armed officer on foot patrol on the Eastman School of Music campus. The proposal generated significant concern among some members of our community, both on and off campus. As you will see from both the committee’s and the PSRB’s recommendations, the complex issues raised by this proposal – issues that are both practical and cultural – could not be easily or unanimously resolved. Thoughtful and well-intentioned people have reached different conclusions.

With respect to Part One of the proposal, both the PSRB and a large majority of the Public Safety Proposal Advisory Committee supported allowing armed DPS supervisors unrestricted campus access. I approve this part of the proposal.

With respect to Part Two of the proposal, the committee and the PSRB came to different conclusions. A large majority of the Public Safety Proposal Advisory Committee rejected this part of the proposal. However, the PSRB recommended that this part of the proposal be approved, but that its implementation be delayed. I have decided that at this time, it is not in the best interests of the University community for me to approve Part Two of the proposal.

I recognize that my decisions will not satisfy everyone. But that is unavoidable in a situation as complex as this one, with deep convictions on both sides. However, I believe my decisions on the two proposals in combination with some other recommended actions represent a fair and reasonable response and the best outcome for our campus now. I will explain some of my thinking below, and I will also address the issue of the perceived need to establish more trust between DPS and the campus community. This issue was raised by both the PSRB and the ad hoc committee in their recommendations.

There is a clear consensus among the members of both committees in support of Part One of the proposal, to allow armed supervisors unrestricted access to campus. As the ad hoc committee report states, permitting such access will allow supervisors to provide oversight more effectively, will enable them to participate in efforts to build trust among officers and other members of the campus community, and will allow them to play a role in campus events at which their presence is clearly beneficial. I agree with these points and, as I stated earlier, I accept the proposal to allow these supervisors full access to campus. This change can occur immediately.

Reaching a decision about Part Two, adding three armed officers on patrol, is plainly more difficult. I make every effort to approach such decisions by trying to consider all points of view, and also to clarify for myself exactly what it is that I’m deciding about. In this case, I am not called on to make a general decision about arms or policing, but instead to decide about making the proposed change on our campus at this time.

There are reasons to support Part Two. It would decrease our reliance on DPS officers at the Medical Center or the Rochester Police Department (RPD) in the case of a serious crime or an active shooter incident. DPS officers on patrol would presumably respond more quickly than officers from the Medical Center or the RPD in such cases. Moreover, these DPS officers know the layout of the campus and better understand the University environment than do RPD officers. A final – and very important – consideration is the safety and security of DPS officers, who could be put in harm’s way if called upon to respond to a serious incident.

There are also reasons against Part Two, many of which were raised strongly by the ad hoc committee report and in public forums that took place last year. For some, there is fear that weapons will be misused, especially against people of color and members of LGBTQ communities, or that the presence of armed DPS officers will have a chilling effect on crimes being reported. There is also concern that arming DPS officers is inconsistent with University culture and values.

Although national data exist about active shooter and misuse of force incidents, it is difficult to extrapolate the data to our current campus environment. We can point to the fact that armed DPS officers have been in place in the Emergency Department at URMC since 2017, and there have been no complaints filed regarding their armed status, nor have there been any cases of inappropriate use. We can also note that there has been no increase in reported crimes since the issue of arming officers was reviewed a few years ago. We can also point to the testimony of members of our community that they will experience the increase of armed DPS officers as a hostile act that will fill them with fear and apprehension about the place where they live, work, and study.

All of these considerations carry weight. I have concluded that approving Part Two, the introduction of additional armed officers into our community – the home for many of our undergraduates – at this time is not in our collective interest. During my time as president, one of my priorities has been to do what I could to make the campus as welcoming and inclusive as possible, to strengthen what we have called our “Culture of Respect.” Under these circumstances, I believe that it would be a mistake to make a change such as the one envisioned in the face of the concerns and fears that have been expressed and in the absence of a consensus in support.

I want to make it very clear this decision in no way reflects any doubts about the quality of the work done by our Department of Public Safety under the leadership of Chief Fischer. I believe DPS has become a model for university public safety departments. The men and women who work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure that our campus and our people are safe deserve our respect and thanks. These officers put themselves on the line on every shift, and I hope every member of our community recognizes their dedication and professionalism. I take the safety of our DPS officers very seriously, and I am working with Chief Fischer and his command staff to try to address any concerns that they have. Our officers are members of our community and deserve to be treated with respect and understanding, in the same manner as all other members of our community.

The committee reports and the discussions that have occurred over the past several months make it evident that there are additional steps that the University should consider. They include some that address campus safety and others that address the sense of confidence and trust. The former category includes such things as a review of campus lighting, the placement of security cameras, making active shooter training more universally available, improvements to the Safe Ride program, and more. With respect to building trust, the ad hoc committee proposes several ways to improve communication and understanding. Toward this end, the appointment of a new campus resource officer to manage the “Adopt a Hall” program has been approved and it is expected that a new officer will be in place for the Fall 2019 semester. DPS also intends to establish a liaison to the LGBTQ community, and to review its first-year student orientation program. Chief Fischer is also supportive of the suggestion that DPS establish a student advisory board to provide a forum in which issues and proposals regarding DPS can be discussed. I have asked Chief Fischer to work with Senior Vice President Crawford and the PSRB, as well as interested students, faculty, and staff on the numerous initiatives that have been proposed. I have requested that I receive by June 7 a preliminary report and recommendations concerning steps that can be taken quickly. Discussion of many these initiatives requires more time and will continue into next year with the support of President Mangelsdorf. It is important to emphasize that building trust requires a partnership among all concerned. It is not something that DPS officers can simply do on their own.

In closing, I would like to thank everyone who took an active role in this process and everyone who provided feedback. I want especially to express my appreciation of the work of Professor Bill FitzPatrick and Jamal Holtz ’20, who co-chaired the ad hoc committee; to Francis Price, who chairs the PSRB; to Holly Crawford; and to Rick Crummins, Amy Happ and Noreen Cherry, who provided key staff assistance. I also want to acknowledge Chief Fischer, not only for his outstanding work as a leader of DPS, but also for his professionalism and his commitment to moving ahead to pursue the objectives that I have outlined here. I believe we have achieved – for now – a reasonable resolution. The passage of time and changing circumstances may necessitate a reexamination of this issue, but I believe that the current decisions are appropriate for the current situation and that the recommendations made by both the committee and the PSRB provide all of us with a way forward to greater trust and cooperation, consistent with our values.

 

Richard Feldman

President and Professor of Philosophy