The University Police Department (UPD) is transitioning to a community policing framework to prioritize safety and wellbeing and forge a stronger connection to the campus community it serves.
The change comes as Cal Poly Pomona launches the search for a new police chief and is based on guidance from the university’s Police Advisory Task Force (PATF), formed in fall 2020 to make recommendations for how to improve communication between the campus community and UPD. The creation of the task force, which consisted of students, faculty, staff, UPD and alumni, is part of Cal Poly Pomona’s ongoing Commitment to Action efforts around creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for students.
In a report released today, the PATF recommended implementing three measures to help improve campus community and UPD relations:
- Adopt a community policing framework for UPD.
- Strengthen the relationship between the campus community and UPD.
- Create a standing Police Advisory Board as a symbol of change and representation for student voices.
Alejandro Covarrubias, executive director for student inclusion and belonging, who chaired the PATF, said that the task force was formed in response to a few incidents in 2019 in which students had reported some negative experiences with UPD.
The PATF was tasked with learning about UPD policies, procedures and training, as well as conducting research to make recommendations for the establishment of a permanent Police Advisory Board.
“One of the key findings was that for a lot of faculty, staff and students, it feels like UPD is separate from the university,” Covarrubias said. “We want to build more trust and more connection. Our police officers are also Broncos, and we all need an understanding of what it means to keep our campus safe.”
Another goal with forming the advisory board is to create more transparency around processes, and a clearer understanding of what happens when reports and complaints against UPD are filed, he said. However, the advisory board will not have the power to oversee disciplinary matters, he added.
“The advisory board might make recommendations about the overall complaint process, but the board would not be reviewing individual complaints,” he said. “The advisory board would never have the power to give recommendations for actions involving a particular officer.”
The board will tackle the following five priorities in the next two years:
- Bring together campus stakeholders as one campus community to improve trust, communication and transparency.
- Identify strategies for UPD to bridge the gap between traditional and community policing models.
- Educate students and campus stakeholders about engagement with law enforcement.
- Engage in further research about community needs and UPD data collection practices.
- Continue the UPD complaint process review.
Because of his experience on the task force, Covarrubias will serve as the first chair of the 15-member Police Advisory Board, which will also include five students, three faculty, a representative from UPD and the remainder staff. The hope is to have the board’s first meeting in October.
One of the student representatives will be from Associated Students Inc., and the other four student members will be selected through an application process.
“We want to make sure students have a voice on the board and hope students will apply to be a member if they feel like this is a passion for them,” Covarrubias said.
Sarah Sharif, a senior studying biology, served on the task force and said she appreciated the opportunity to meet faculty, staff and other students with diverse experiences and perspectives.
“It was a good experience,” she said. “It was good to have a diverse group to get a lot of different perspectives on issues we talked about. Think we worked together really well.”
Sharif learned about the opportunity to serve from an email that went out to students, and said she felt it was important to have student voices represented and work to make sure everyone on campus felt heard and respected.
The PATF’s work and recommendation to adopt a community policing framework is also influencing the search for a new chief of police that is now underway. The Chief Search Committee recently completed a review of the draft position description and plans to post the final in the next few weeks. The 11-member committee also is providing feedback on the selection process and working with a recruitment firm on the search.
The group expects to begin discussions in October on the applicants and who to invite for interviews, said Leticia Gutierrez-Lopez, associate vice president for student health and wellbeing, who was selected as the search committee chair to reflect the critical partnership of UPD in supporting student wellbeing.
The hope is to find a candidate who can engage and build relationships with the campus and surrounding communities, and who values safety, education and accountability, Gutierrez-Lopez said. The goal is to have a new chief begin during the spring semester.
“It is really important that the person we select has strong problem-solving skills, can incorporate the various members of the campus community and be inclusive, is able to advance our community policing goals and can take the recommendations of the Police Advisory Board and bring them to fruition,” she said. “We need a strong leader who engages the campus and their team while still being able to hold folks accountable when needed, someone who aligns with the mission, vision and values of the university.”
UPD is already moving to adopt a community policing approach under David Hall, the university’s interim chief of police as of Aug. 16, who was previously the assistant chief of police at CSU Dominguez Hills. “We’ve already started the transition to community policing,” he said, citing a new “walk and talk” patrol plan that will increase officers’ interactions with students while out on foot.
The university is hosting a Campus Conversation on the PATF recommendations and community policing on Sept. 14 at noon to provide an opportunity for dialogue.
In a message to campus, President Soraya M. Coley lauded the work of the PATF, the members of the chief search committee and Hall for their work to transition the UPD to a community policing model and efforts to find a chief who will prioritize campus safety and wellbeing. She recognized the strained bonds of trust between UPD and students, faculty of color in particular.
“Last year, this strain resulted in strong statements from our student and faculty leaders calling for change,” she said. “I understand the pain and frustration that motivated the resolutions from ASI and the Academic Senate and others within our campus. I also believe that we all—including the valued members of our UPD—aspire to develop and support genuine relationships within our community based out our shared values and mission.”