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Community Board on Public Safety issues first annual progress report

Report contains a set of recommendations and three years of preliminary data on the Stanford Department of Public Safety’s interactions with the public.

Stanford’s Community Board on Public Safety has issued a first progress report calling for a new model of public safety and policing on campus. It contains proposals for reducing community engagement with armed officers, new strategies for responding to mental health crises, coordination of contracted security efforts and new processes for receiving and evaluating community feedback on police interactions, among other recommendations.

Patrick Dunkley and Claude Steele, composite portraits

Patrick Dunkley, left, and Claude Steele co-chair the Community Board on Public Safety. (Image credit: Courtesy Patrick Dunkley and Claude Steele)

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who called for the formation of the board, said, “It is essential that we have a community in which all people, of every race and background, feel safe and protected. The Community Board on Public Safety has spent the last year listening to the concerns of community members and deliberating on where we can make improvements in public safety at Stanford. The board has developed important recommendations, and the university will be working next to review the recommendations and begin designing implementation steps in response.”

The board has also begun to evaluate three years of initial data from Stanford’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) about its interactions with the public, including arrests made, citations issued and field interviews conducted by race and ethnicity. The report said that limitations in the data make it premature to draw conclusions, but that a number of questions – particularly where Black and Latinx individuals have had more interactions with police than members of other groups – need additional investigation.

Tessier-Lavigne agreed that the data about police interactions point to areas that warrant further scrutiny. “The Board will be doing further analysis and may make additional recommendations about these and other issues, which we welcome. Wherever there are questions of unequal treatment based on race or ethnicity, we must confront them squarely and unequivocally,” he said.

“Our Department of Public Safety is committed to providing outstanding service to our community and understands the unique requirements of supporting public safety on a university campus,” he said. “Its officers put themselves in harm’s way each day to protect our community. The department also embraces continual improvement in its practices. It is important to recognize the service and dedication of DPS even as we acknowledge areas for improvement.”

The full report is available here.

Background and recommendations

Tessier-Lavigne established the Community Board on Public Safety last June. He appointed Patrick Dunkley, vice provost for institutional equity, access and community, and Claude Steele, professor emeritus of psychology, as co-chairs, who formed a committee of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, staff and community representatives, and members of the Department of Public Safety (DPS).

The president charged the board with producing a set of recommendations to ensure the university is effectively addressing safety concerns and is promoting and maintaining a healthy and safe environment for all community members.

After months of gathering community input, reviewing data and meeting with various committees and coalitions across the campus, the board formulated its initial recommendations in the report released today.

“The recommendations are the most important part of our report. They are based on extensive testimony from all aspects of our community and a year-long information gathering process,” said Steele. “We hope they reveal the challenges involved in ensuring public safety, as well as offering guidance for its constant improvement. To our knowledge, few other campuses have engaged in such a “re-imagining” process. So, we hope to inspire, as well as offer constructive guidance, in this moment of national attention to the issue.”

The Community Board’s report calls for a new model of public safety at Stanford, including reducing community engagement with armed police officers to the extent possible, and asks the university to study a model that places more emphasis on using non-sworn officers to perform certain functions on campus while retaining a unit of sworn police officers for emergency responses and other circumstances that require it.

The report contains eight principles/recommendations, namely that:

  • Armed policing, particularly of student-centered areas of the community, should be reduced to the greatest extent possible; and more generally, armed policing should be used to the lowest extent appropriate for the circumstances. The board also recommends that the university develop programs to build relationships between Stanford students and DPS officers so there is a level of trust that makes students and others comfortable in calling DPS when needed.
  • Responses to mental health crises on campus should generally be handled by mental health professionals. The use of either DPS officers or contracted security services in such situations should be limited, as much as possible, to those in which there is a threat of violence or harm to public safety, or where participation of sworn officers is required by law.
  • There should be tracking of the various types of public safety calls to facilitate review.
  • All security services operating on campus should meet minimum standards and be coordinated. (Some schools and departments contract with private security forces that intersect with the work of the Department of Public Safety.)
  • Anti-bias and de-escalation education should be provided for all security services, as well as for the community.
  • There should be a process for receiving community feedback, positive or negative, on community interactions with police and private security, and a process for independent review of complaints.
  • The university should consider other possibilities for community involvement in the management of public safety in the Stanford community.
  • The university should seek to capture data related to police interactions with the public in a way that better allows it to assess any potential bias – data that would assist the ongoing work of the board.

Dunkley said that the board doesn’t consider the recommendations and principles in the report to be exhaustive and he expects that additional recommendations and modifications to the current ones will occur as the board continues its work.

“We are a standing, ongoing board. We understand that more work is needed to develop the best model for safety on campus. We offer this set of principles and recommendations as a way of guiding that development,” he said.

Dunkley also acknowledged the role of the Department of Public Safety. “DPS provides important service to the Stanford community, and the board appreciates its dedication and recognizes the difficulty of its work,” he said. “In our deliberations, we also found areas where there are misalignments between the services historically provided by the Department of Public Safety and the expectations and desires of some parts of the larger Stanford community. Through our process, we also have recognized that public safety involves much more than the work of DPS alone. Understanding and calibrating needs, expectations and resources across this landscape has been key to our review.”

Chief Laura Wilson, a Stanford alum who serves as director of the Department of Public Safety, said, “DPS is committed to serving the Stanford community, including the faculty, staff, students, alums, as well as the many visitors and individuals who are not university staff who provide services to those who work, study and live on campus. We also want people to be safe and feel safe, and we continue to embrace recommendations for improvement in our policies and practices to achieve this shared desired outcome.”

Review of data

The Community Board reviewed three years of initial data on DPS interactions at Stanford (fiscal years 2018, 2019, 2020). These interactions were documented in the following forms of police records: daily activity reports, field interviews and reports of citations and reports of arrests.

In its report, the Community Board noted that several factors make an analysis of DPS data very challenging, including:

  • It is difficult to compare the demographic characteristics of DPS data directly to the demographics of the Stanford community because many people who enter or drive through the campus are not Stanford community members. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of additional people visit land patrolled by DPS each year. Therefore, the population of students, faculty and staff is not necessarily representative of the total population on campus at any given time.
  • More extensive data is not yet available but will be soon. A new state law, the Racial Identity and Profiling Act (RIPA), which requires more extensive data collection by law enforcement agencies, took effect for DPS this year, and that data will be available for review by the Community Board by April 2022.
  • The Stanford community uses multiple private security services to supplement the efforts of DPS. There is not a system in place for compiling and integrating data reflecting the activities of these private security services, therefore this data was not available to the Community Board.

For these and other reasons, in its report, the Community Board noted, “We are making the data we have immediately available to the public in the interest of transparency. But we remind all users to keep in mind the limitations of the data and not draw conclusions before additional data can be accessed and analyzed.”

Some of the initial data indicate possible group differences in experiences with DPS, for instance:

  • Latinx vehicle operators constitute a considerably higher portion of arrests and citations in this data set than their proportion of the overall Stanford faculty, staff and student population or for two counties in which Stanford operates. Analysis of these data, however, did not identify a definitive reason for this.
  • The percentage of Black vehicle operators and riders stopped for possible vehicle or bike violations was almost three times as high as the percentage of Black vehicle operators and riders who received citations for those stops and twice the percentage of the Stanford faculty, staff and student population. However, compared to other groups, officers gave only a little more than one-third as many citations to Black operators as compared to stopped operators from other groups.
  • The percentage of field interviews with Black individuals was nearly four times the percentage of the Black student, staff and faculty population at Stanford. Field interviews don’t involve arrests, citations or warnings, but indicate that an officer has interacted with someone. The data reveal that community members’ calls for service are a substantial cause of the relatively higher level of DPS contacts with members of the Black population and Latinx population on campus as compared to other groups.

“We believe it is important to share with the Stanford community the data we have begun reviewing in our work,” said Steele, co-chair of the Community Board. “Nonetheless, we stress that these data have important limitations. Like everyone, we would have liked the data to give us definitive signals about how to improve public safety in our community. But due to ambiguities and incompleteness, they fall shy of that. Still, they do raise important flags. They point to important questions that need to be better understood in order to ensure our community is fair and safe for everyone. And as a standing board, our mission is to answer these questions, to follow these leads to the point of finding clear ways of improving both our community’s actual and felt safety.”

Next steps

“The board’s report makes high-level recommendations for developing and refining the model of public safety that is best suited for our community. The next step is for the university to assess and design how those recommendations can be implemented operationally,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “We will be scoping out this process over the next few weeks, and the fuller design process will occur over the next year, including consultation with subject-matter experts, continued engagement with the Stanford community and discussion with Santa Clara County, which delegates law enforcement authority on our campus to the Department of Public Safety under a memorandum of understanding.”

The Community Board also will continue its work and will engage a consultant who specializes in implementing changes to policing operations to assist in understanding the implications of the board’s proposed changes. Additionally, as RIPA data becomes available in spring 2022 the Community Board may have access to additional data for analysis and inclusion in the 2022 annual report.

“I am deeply grateful to all the members of the Community Board on Public Safety, including its co-chairs Claude Steele and Patrick Dunkley, for their work on this important and complex issue,” Tessier-Lavigne said.