Fostering Dialogue and Further Steps on Public Safety
To: Members of the University Community
From: Robert J. Zimmer, President, and Ka Yee C. Lee, Provost
Subject: Fostering Dialogue and Further Steps on Public Safety
Date: August 12, 2020
The recent local and national dialogue concerning systemic racism has been cause for examination and reflection regarding the role of law enforcement in our society. We have worked in recent weeks with colleagues across campus on initial steps to seize this moment to respond to and address the wide range of views on how to achieve public safety among people on our campus and in nearby communities.
Our goal is to engage with our campus and overall community to help ensure that University police are effectively serving our broader community and supporting public safety. In our June message on building a stronger, more inclusive university, we pledged to take steps to understand experiences with the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD), and to continue striving to make our own practices a model for higher education and the law enforcement community. We are writing to outline our next steps to advance these objectives.
The UCPD provides a vital service in helping to keep safe and support our campus and surrounding communities – a mission that the University has undertaken with the encouragement of community leaders and in accordance with Chicago City Ordinance. That role will continue. Over UCPD’s 40-year history the University has taken critical feedback seriously and used it to guide the department’s significant evolution over time. We will continue to support the UCPD and the communities it serves, as we seek new areas for improvement. Such an approach is in keeping with the majority of feedback the University has received in conversations in recent years with local residents, the University community, elected officials, and other stakeholders who have asked for more engagement from UCPD.
We believe it is essential to continue examining our public safety function and ways in which community services provided by the University, including security and policing, can be improved. Our aim is to incorporate critical perspectives about our public safety function, including the UCPD, and to work constructively with critics as well as those who have asked for more engagement from the department. We recognize that Black members of the University community and Black residents more broadly have distinctive experiences with police, and we will work with urgency to address related concerns.
Over the past 10 years the UCPD has undertaken a number of transformative changes, guided since 2015 by the recommendations of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. This moment provides an important opportunity to build on this work and re-imagine public safety and community wellness to consistently address our collective priorities.
We will foster further improvement through the following steps:
Renew Engagement – The leadership of the UCPD, the University’s Department of Safety and Security, the Office of Civic Engagement, and other University offices are developing a series of meetings with people from across our campus and in local communities, encompassing a wide range of views on public safety issues. These meetings will begin this month, providing UCPD leadership with the opportunity to hear directly from faculty, students, staff, and community residents. Following these small group discussions, we will schedule a public forum to discuss issues raised in these meetings and at the University’s town hall discussion in June, to help develop additional actions in areas of concern.
Identify Areas for Action – Through suggestions raised in this process of renewed engagement we will consider specific recommendations for UCPD and other public safety measures, and how the University can support public safety through its research, education, and set of community-facing services and programs. The potential areas for action include but are not limited to:
- Further steps to prevent racial bias in policing
- The role of unarmed contract security officers on and around campus
- Accountability and transparency
- Work with faculty engaged in research and education related to public safety to broaden curricular offerings
- UCPD and community resources and responses around mental health
- Expanding economic development and educational opportunity on the South Side
Survey our Community – With faculty input and guidance, the University will develop a survey to gain insights into the full range of experiences with UCPD and public safety among faculty, OAAs, postdocs, staff, students, and community members. Although the University has robust processes to address complaints concerning UCPD, we need additional ways to assess the level of trust in these systems and to capture concerns that may not be reflected in formal complaints.
Form a New Public Safety Advisory Group – We will form a combined advisory group on police and public safety, encompassing perspectives from campus and community members, to engage on fundamental issues regarding the UCPD and public safety more generally for the University community and the broader extended patrol area community.
Build on Recent Reforms – The University has taken the initiative to implement extensive reforms and enhancements involving the UCPD over the last decade, based in part on input from community members and public officials. These steps provide a strong foundation for further actions:
Accountability – An Independent Review Committee (IRC), which operates outside of and independent from the UCPD, reviews complaints against the UCPD and evaluates its actions. More information on the IRC’s role can be found here. All UCPD officers are equipped with body cameras and patrol vehicles are equipped with in-car cameras, which help provide impartial evidence and documentation.
Transparency – The University has taken numerous actions to ensure that UCPD’s day-to-day policing activities are transparent and clear, going beyond what Illinois law requires of police departments at private institutions. The publicly accessible information includes:
- UCPD’s daily crime/fire log.
- Information on all traffic stops.
- Information on all field contacts.
- Complaints reviewed by the Independent Review Committee, available here.
- Annual reports of the Independent Review Committee, available here.
- Arrest records available upon request here.
- UCPD standard operating policies and procedures.
- Crime trends, available here.
Accreditation – UCPD is the only campus public safety agency in Illinois accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), and one of three private university agencies in the U.S. accredited by both CALEA and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Agencies (IACLEA). The extensive accreditation process requires the department to meet the highest professional standards of public safety.
Diversity – UCPD’s diversity reflects that of the communities the department serves. 53.7% of UCPD officers are Black, 32.5% are White, and 10.7% are Hispanic.
Training – In keeping with recommendations from the 2015 Report on 21st Century Policing, UCPD has greatly enhanced its training and higher education requirements over the last decade. Since 2009, all newly hired UCPD officers are required to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. In addition, UCPD requires all officers to complete 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), which prepares officers to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and interact with those exhibiting crisis symptoms by de-escalating the situation. All officers also receive extensive training in procedural justice and the prevention of bias and racial profiling. UCPD policies require additional annual in-service training on a range of topics including legal updates, ethics, and other subjects as mandated by the State of Illinois.
The current national dialogue about the future of public safety has raised painful and necessary questions about the role of police. Trust in law enforcement is at its lowest when communities feel there is no prospect for improvement in response to valid criticism. We are determined to build a positive example of engagement, responsiveness, and community-oriented action on matters of public safety. We look forward to working with people across campus and the South Side on these important issues.