University seeks policing turnaround with advisory report, permanent chief search

By Nicolas Hernandez, Sept. 7, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona President Soraya Coley released the university’s police advisory report and announced the search for a permanent chief of the University Police Department in a Sept. 2 statement. The announcements, part of the campus’ declared shift toward community policing, follow a semester in which student and faculty representatives decried the department’s ability to address patterns of racial discrimination against students.

The 15-page report is the culmination of the Police Advisory Task Force’s meetings last semester with the goal of establishing a permanent CPP Police Advisory Board to review and recommend changes to UPD policy. The report assessed that UPD currently mirrors a municipal police department, is disconnected from the campus community and should “fully adopt a community policing framework.”

Alejandro Covarrubias, executive director of student inclusion and belonging, chaired the student-majority task force and said the UPD’s municipal characteristics were most evident in its officer training and development.

“I think a lot of the training was as if they were being a police officer for the City of Pomona or for the City of Riverside, and many of them come from those city agencies,” said Covarrubias. “What we found though was there was a sort of gap of like, ‘But now you’re patrolling and now you’re keeping a campus safe.’ So, the focus on education, the focus on being developmental didn’t always come through in interactions, in community engagement and partnerships.”

Both ASI and the Academic Senate passed resolutions in May calling for the permanent advisory board to be able to review and change university police policy following allegations by Jeremy Manning, a Black student who served on the task force, of a UPD detective accusing him of attempting to defraud his bank and lying to police.

While Coley acknowledged the two resolutions in the Sept. 2 announcement, stating, “I understand the pain and frustration that motivated the resolutions from ASI and the Academic Senate and others within our campus,” the CPP Police Advisory Board will not possess the ability to change any policing policy.

According to Covarrubias, the board’s lack of power over UPD policy is due to most of the department’s policy being state-mandated. For the policies that can be changed by the campus, he said that UPD’s willingness to accept the board’s recommendations would depend on the new chief of police, campus administrators and the policy itself.

For Sarah Sharif, a biology student who served on the task force, this lack of power to change policy makes student advocacy integral to ensuring board recommendations are adopted.

“I think it’s important for students to show up and say if they’ve had any experiences or things they want to see changed,” said Sharif. “And if they don’t make it known if they have issues, it’s going to be a little more difficult to make change that you want to happen.”

According to the report, the board will meet three to four times a semester in closed meetings, notes of which will be public. In addition, the board will host open forums, and Covarrubias confirmed that board recommendations — even those not approved by administrators — will be publicly available.

The powers of the board regarding individual officer accountability are also limited. While the report prioritizes a continued review of the police department’s complaint process, Covarrubias said privacy laws, HR policies and the police union’s structure prevents an advisory board from exercising disciplinary powers over officers.

“The primary limitation — and really this was more about being realistic — is that a civilian advisory board would never have the power to give disciplinary recommendations and would never have disciplinary power of individual police officers.”

The 15-person board will include one ASI representative, one Staff Council representative, the president or a designee of the Black Faculty and Staff Association, two Student Affairs representatives, one Academic Affairs representative, three Academic Senate representatives, four students selected via an application process and the UPD chief or designee of sergeant rank or higher.

After the campus’ task force was established in 2020, the California State University released a policy in June 2021 governing police advisory committees. The policy states that campus presidents will have the authority to appoint members to the committee and will appoint a chair of the committee.

In an email to The Poly Post, Vice President of Student Affairs Christina Gonzales confirmed that Coley agreed to the report’s suggested membership scheme; however, it is still undecided whether Coley will appoint as chair one of the 15 members on the board or add a 16th member to serve as chair.

Coley’s announcement described the campus’ shift to community policing as also influencing the search of a new permanent police chief with “a commitment to, and experience in, safety and security within a learning community.”

Associate Vice President for Student Health & Wellbeing Leticia Gutierrez-Lopez, chair of the search committee, said while the committee has not discussed whether it would look for candidates exclusively from a campus policing background as opposed to municipal policing, it would “want somebody who could understand the clear difference between the two.”

Since UPD Chief Dario Robinson’s retirement, who served in the San Bernardino Police Department before his tenure with the university, the campus’ two announced interim chiefs had both served in CSU police departments.

Gutierrez-Lopez affirmed the committee would look for a candidate who will be open to the recommendations made by the advisory board.

“We need to make sure that … whoever comes in is someone who is going to work collaboratively with the campus to ensure that we do adopt a community policing framework, that we do strengthen the relationships between our campus community and UPD,” said Gutierrez-Lopez.

According to Gutierrez-Lopez, the committee formed in July and has met twice. The search committee, in accordance with the campus’ policy on appointing administrative positions, includes two faculty representatives, six vice presidential appointees, one staff representative, two administrative support staff and one student representative.

Tala Qasqas, ASI officer of diversity and inclusion, was appointed by ASI President Prabhat Jammalamadaka as the sole student representative on the committee.

“There’s been a lot of issues on our campus recently involving UPD and a lot of students don’t have much confidence in UPD on campus,” said Qasqas, discussing her willingness to join the committee. “So being able to represent the students at Cal Poly and being able to find someone who can take on these responsibilities and serve the students accordingly is definitely something I’m very passionate about and something I was very excited to do.”

Students’ lack of confidence in UPD was codified within ASI’s resolution last semester which, on top of calling for the permanent police advisory board to be granted the power to change policy, affirmed a vote of no confidence in the department’s ability to protect students and address complaints in an equitable manner.

Qasqas, who served on the ASI Board of Directors last semester as the Multi-Cultural Council senator-at-large and voted in favor of that resolution, discussed how much of the change ASI called for can be accomplished by appointing a new chief versus working to change the culture of the UPD more generally.

“Part of our action plan to continue from this year and moving forward in future years is definitely to hold UPD accountable and make sure we have confidence in how they serve our students,” said Qasqas. “Whether that be finding a new chief of police or constantly checking in asking students, ‘How do you feel about UPD? What has UPD done for you?’ So, constantly checking in with our students. A lot needs to be done and I think us as student leaders need to push to really support our students and advocate for them especially in aspects like the UPD.”

In addition to the report’s release and the announcement of the search, Coley announced that UPD will no longer be overseen by the Division of Student Affairs but rather the Division of Academic Affairs. This reverses an administrative dispersion last semester that placed the police department under Student Affairs’ purview.

Gonzales said that the UPD’s transition into Administrative Affairs was ultimately a decision made by Coley, but one which aligns more closely to the norm of California State University campus police departments reporting to administrative affairs offices.

Despite UPD leadership reporting to a different vice president, Gonzales expects the police chief to be included in Student Affairs meetings and highlighted Interim Chief David Hall’s willingness to collaborate with the campus’ dean of students.

Candidate recruitment for the permanent chief is being delegated to a search firm that is expected to finalize the official job description, minimum qualifications and preferred criteria next week. The permanent chief is expected to be selected and begin serving in spring 2022.

Coley also invited campus community members to participate in a virtual discussion on Sept. 14 regarding the report and the campus’ community policing aspirations. Details for the event may be found in the Office of the President website.

-With reporting from Georgia Valdes

Feature image by Max Rodriguez

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