Campus Conversation works to rebuild trust in University Police

By Joshua Hernandez, Sept. 21, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona held a Campus Conversation webinar on Tuesday, Sept. 18 further discussing the University Police Department’s shift toward community policing, as announced earlier this month.

The conversation was overseen by Vice President of Student Affairs Christina Gonzales and featured UPD Interim Chief David Hall, ASI Vice President Derek Sweem and former Academic Senate Chair Phyllis Nelson as panelists. The event focused on strategies such as increasing officers’ visibility on campus, reducing police response time and building rapport between officers and the students they serve, in order to address the three key themes listed in the Police Advisory Task Force’s Final Report from spring.

Three such strategies Hall advocated for were restructuring patrol operations to improve officers’ supervisory capacity, increasing the number of officers who are available 24/7 and encouraging officers to get to know students on a personal level.

“The majority of our patrol time should be spent engaging with the campus community and increasing visibility,” Hall said. “Visibility of law enforcement stops crime.”

The panelists also discussed the importance of the soon to be formed, permanent Cal Poly Pomona Police and Safety Advisory Committee in not only ensuring oversight of the UPD, but also listening to and representing the interests of students, faculty and staff.

When asked by Gonzales about the importance of including student voices on last year’s Police Advisory Task Force, Sweem, who also served on the task force, answered by saying most of the cases UPD receives are from students.

“Ultimately, UPD is here to make sure that students are able to have a safe learning environment,” Sweem said. “So having students present was important to see how we can better foster that connection between the two groups.”

With that in mind, fellow task force member Nelson noted how campus police tends to patrol from inside their cars, so she hopes to see more police officers on bicycles or on foot, to build visibility and trust with the community.

Nelson also recognized the limitations of emergency services; as a volunteer fire fighter since 1999, Nelson interacts with police regularly enough to know how rigid protocol can be.

The challenge campus police face is “recognizing that in spite of the fact that your organization’s culture is different, you remember this campus community,” Nelson said.

“Although you have some responsibilities for maintaining public safety and managing individual situations, you’re really a member of the community,” added Nelson.

Nelson also explained the importance of familiarizing police with the campus, not only on a geographic level, but a personal one, to better understand the environment of a situation before responding.

Valerie Martinez, a criminology student who attended the event, added to this sentiment by asking the panelists how they planned to approach students with special needs.

Martinez pointed out the difficulties in knowing preemptively if a student has special needs and suggested police be made aware beforehand so as to better tailor their protocols toward serving those students.

“I appreciate that they even acknowledged and took the time to answer,” Martinez said. However, she lamented that due to time restrictions, the panelists could only offer a generalized answer.

The Police Advisory & Safety Committee will begin meeting in October and continue meeting quarterly during the academic year. Students interested in joining the committee as a student representative can apply online.

“We want to make people feel safe, so the more that our folks are out there being visible to the community, the safer people should feel,” Hall said.

Feature image by Aaliyah Murillo

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