This year has been a very challenging one for the University of Rochester, the nation, and our global community. During this time, University of Rochester Public Safety officers and staff have been proud to be a part of the UR community’s operational and logistical responses to the challenges of the COVID pandemic. 2020 has also shown us all through national and local tragedies the need to confront and address issues of brutality and racial disparity in law enforcement.
As a country, we have unfortunately all been witness to the unjustified killings of Black and Brown people at the hands of police officers. DPS officers share in the intolerance of these racial atrocities and the pursuit to eliminate them from every aspect of our society. We also acknowledge the pain caused by these incidents and understand how these horrifying actions bring greater attention to the public safety work we perform. Together as a department, we have worked to become more communicative about our policies and practices to help assure students and employees that our work is guided by the University’s values and the principle that patience and verbal de-escalation skills are the most effective policing techniques for our DPS officers; the use of deadly physical force can only be justified in the protection of the officer’s life or that of a third person, and only when retreat is not possible.
We work to demonstrate through our everyday actions and interactions that we are ever mindful of the immense responsibility that is entrusted to us to keep every member of this community safe—this is our highest priority. Over the past year, DPS leadership has listened very closely to members of our community about the ways we can move forward together to improve communication. Working with our Student Advisory Board and the numerous committees and groups on which we serve, we have been responsive to concerns about inequities and supported suggestions for change, for example, by reexamining all policies and training related to use of force, increasing departmental transparency by providing public-facing DPS policies, and continuing our Crisis Intervention Training for all officers. We are committed to building the mutual understanding necessary to successfully serve a University community where everyone feels safe, is respected, and is treated equally. As chief, I believe that a highly trained department that is sensitive to the needs and diversity of the community is essential to ensuring the safety of all.
Also, in a year of a global pandemic that has dramatically changed life as we know it, we have seen every day the heroism exhibited by our University of Rochester Medical Center doctors, nurses, and support staff on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, treating and caring for Rochester’s most seriously ill patients. Working alongside our medical professionals have been members of the Department of Public Safety. Since March 2020, we have been an integral part of the Emergency Operations Centers that have been formed on the Hospital, River and Eastman Campuses. I remain amazed at the dedication of both our health care providers and DPS officers who every day don their PPE and knowingly enter such a challenging environment answering over 60,000 calls for service this year.
In closing, this year DPS has worked very purposefully to increase our positive presence in the University community and support all students, faculty, staff, patients, and visitors to learn, discover, heal and create in an ever-changing environment. We will continue these efforts in 2021 and remain dedicated to keeping everyone safe and promoting an even more inclusive living, learning and working environment.