Protests against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd last summer have accelerated public dialogue around police reform in America and caused some police departments across the country to rethink the way they serve their communities.
On Monday, University of California President Michael Drake announced major changes that will be implemented by University of California Police Departments (UCPD) across all 10-campuses to address the reality that systems of policing and law enforcement have not “safeguarded people equally.”
UC Berkeley’s UCPD has already initiated many of these policy shifts, said Berkeley Vice Chancellor of Administration Marc Fisher, who oversees the police department. In many ways, Berkeley has become a leader within the UC system in rethinking UCPD’s role on campus, he said.
“Any single change we’ve implemented this past year may sound small, but taken together, the moves we’ve made will be better for the campus community,” said Fisher. “Particularly for members of our community who may have had negative interactions with the police at some point in their life.”
“While some members of our community have expressed that we should be moving faster, we are designing lasting change that is centered on being thoughtful to all points of view.”
Berkeley News spoke with Fisher about the major shifts in UCPD’s campus operations, and how they will help make Berkeley a more inclusive and safer place for everyone.
Berkeley News: What is the most significant change Berkeley is making in terms of UCPD’s role on campus?
Fisher: We were the first UC to set up an Independent Advisory Board (IAB) to hear and learn from faculty, staff and students how to improve policing and campus safety.
A major issue addressed by the IAB and the campus was the role of police during mental health crises. Police became the first responders during these incidents as other forms of societal support for those in crisis were eliminated. I don’t believe that this is the best response approach.
We looked at best practices that other police departments and/or communities were implementing across the country. We came to the consensus that our University Health Services has such a great mental health team on campus: Why not grow that effort to include them in our crisis response?
We’ve begun to formulate a new approach in which the response to campus mental health crises comes primarily from someone who is not a UCPD officer, but a mental health professional, and/or a peer advisor — someone who is a peer of the person who is in crisis.
The promising thing about this change is the majority of our campus community is made up of students, and our University Health Services experts know our students. So, when they respond to someone in crisis, hopefully it is a person who is already known to them, and the response can be personal, engaging and more immediately helpful.
This response model may help us avoid having someone who is going through a mental health crisis from being put in an ambulance and sent to a hospital unnecessarily, which could produce additional trauma.
We hope to start this effort in the fall, and we are aiming to be one of the first campuses in the UC system to make this shift.
I think this is the most profound thing we’ve been doing in terms of campus safety reform. It will be a huge benefit for someone who is having a mental health crisis, both at the time of the immediate crisis and in the period after. This response becomes part of the larger support benefit that the UHS team can provide.
UCOP has proposed that UCPD must transition to a tiered police response model where armed, sworn-in officers will not be utilized for certain incidents on campus. Where does Berkeley stand in that transition and why is this important?
UCOP’s tiered police response proposal aligns nicely with what Berkeley already does and our intent is to strengthen our approach. Our sworn officers, who are authorized to carry weapons, are the first tier and will respond to calls on campus, such as violent incidents, where their services and skills are most appropriate.
But we also will have an expanded version of our second tier, what many campuses are calling “ambassadors.” These are officers who are not sworn and do not carry weapons. The officers would be equivalent to our security patrol officers (SPO), who we currently see at building entries on campus.
Rather than having sworn officers patrolling the campus, the goal is to have ambassadors perform more of the visible patrols. The ambassadors would have a radio and some sort of identifying attire but would not carry a weapon. They would provide the eyes and ears on campus looking out for campus safety while providing campus service to those who have questions or needs as they navigate the campus.
The third tier proposed is also consistent with our current approach, but we hope to expand. It entails the community services officers (CSOs) program populated by Berkeley students. The CSOs provide a role similar to campus security officers, but also offer other services including the popular Bear Walks escort program to walk with faculty, staff and students across campus and to their dorms, apartments and cars.
Berkeley’s Independent Advisory Board and other members of the campus community have recommended moving the UCPD office out of Sproul Hall. How is this being addressed?
The Chancellor and I are very supportive of this recommendation. It has been challenging to implement due to space constraints, the stringent building code for this particular function and related costs. We have studied the issue and have learned a lot in the last 14 months.
First, none of our campus buildings meet the criteria for emergency operations use in terms of their structural design. The requirements for a police department building are a little bit like the physical requirements of a hospital; this is a very expensive building typology.
We looked at the cost of upgrading different existing campus buildings to meet these criteria. The effort quickly started to spiral into a very expensive project that we projected would cost more than $20 million.
We met with the leadership for the Independent Advisory Board this past June and talked and reviewed our findings. They didn’t support spending the required money at this time. So, this effort is on hold and will require further campus discussion.
We understand that the presence of UCPD in the area of Sproul Hall is uncomfortable for some in our community. Our intention is to reduce the visible presence of UCPD as much as possible including rethinking where UCPD vehicles are parked.
What other campus policy changes address those concerns?
We are shifting a number of on-campus operations away from UCPD. These are operations that can be categorized as non-law-enforcement activities. The moves allow us to shrink the portfolio of UCPD and reduce what might be uncomfortable contact with the department.
For example, you don’t need to go to UCPD to obtain building access as of this past June. This can now be handled at the departmental level. And we will soon offer alternate fingerprinting locations, so campus members won’t need to walk into the police department to be fingerprinted.
We also moved the emergency operations team out of UCPD. They now report directly to me. The Clery unit — those who manage our federally mandated reporting of crimes — were also moved last year and now report to Berkeley’s risk and compliance services in the Chancellor’s office.
I believe that all of these changes allow us to refocus the core services of UCPD.
What do you say to people who don’t feel these changes are enough? Or someone who believes there is no need for police on campus?
Introducing change and improvements on a university campus needs to be done thoughtfully. I respect that some members of the campus community will say that what we’re doing so far is inadequate or not being implemented rapidly enough. That feeling is sincere and an important perspective and we will benefit by continuing to listen to all.
I do think certain changes we are making are garnering a lot of support, like the mental health response efforts. At the same time, I think we continue to hear some people say that we should just defund and/or abolish UCPD. To me this is of special concern as I continue to believe that the Berkeley campus needs and will continue to need some form of department that provides campus safety and security. On any given day, there are more than 60,000 people on campus. If UC Berkeley were its own city, it would be in the top 10% of largest cities in California. So, if there’s no UCPD, then City of Berkeley Police or Alameda County Sheriff officers would likely respond to calls on campus.
Having our own police department not only allows us to ensure that we have officers that are better trained to understand and serve our campus community, but also gives us a better opportunity of introducing campus safety enhancements than we would have working with an outside agency.
How can members of the campus community stay engaged, and have a voice in the discussions around UCPD changes moving forward?
The Chancellor’s Independent Advisory Board was set up to enhance transparency and accountability of UCPD. The board has students, faculty and staff, and makes recommendations to the Chancellor on enhancements to UCPD and to campus safety.
I encourage everyone to learn more about the IAB and to submit questions, ideas and suggestions.