USC

Reimagine Public Safety demands the abolishment of DPS by end of 2021

USC community coalition releases petition to sever ties with DPS and other policing agencies.

Reimagine Public Safety, a USC community coalition, is circulating a petition titled “Abolish DPS Invest in Community Care” with the intent to abolish the university’s Department of Public Safety (DPS).

In the petition, members of Reimagine Public Safety (RPS) outline three demands: divestment from current policing institutions, investment in communities of color within USC and processing of the petition’s demands in a timely manner.

Released Feb. 15, the petition sets two dates as goals. According to the coalition’s Instagram, the petitioners’ first goal of public acknowledgment for Feb. 28 has not been met. The next goal is set for April 30, with the intention of making a public timeline to implement the demands and phase out DPS by the end of 2021.

DPS responded to Annenberg Media’s request for an interview by directing us to previous coverage of the issue. They offered no further comment on the petition or movement.

The mission of the RPS coalition is to abolish USC’s on-campus law enforcement after what they describe as a history of racist and prejudiced actions. The coalition is made up of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and different organizations across the university and beyond it, including the Black Student Assembly and the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation (SCALE).

SCALE collaborated with RPS in developing the demands because DPS doesn’t ensure safety for the greater community, SCALE wrote in an email to Annenberg Media. The organization is continuing to show support after the petition’s release through the creation of an RPS working committee. Their initiatives include planning teach-ins about abolition and adjacent topics, and organizing calls to action that amplify abolitionist work on campus.

“It’s really about envisioning a way that we can all feel safe instead of kind of a system that works to profile people, to arrest people, to incarcerate people, to police people, to make people that are not affiliated with USC feel unsafe when they’re on USC’s campus,” said a member of the Reimagine Public Safety coalition in an interview with Annenberg Media. The member wished to remain unnamed due to concerns over being compromised by their affiliation with RSP.

Recently elected USG President and Vice President Alexis Areias and Lucy Warren said during the USG debate in February they would support the plans from student organizations and assemblies like BSA to reimagine campus safety, such as ensuring DPS officers do not respond to mental health calls and renegotiating contracts to prevent DPS officers from carrying lethal weapons on campus.

Some of the other demands of the petition, aside from abolishing DPS, include investing in de-escalation training for university non-law enforcement response teams responding to violent incidents, ending on-campus and off-campus patrols by DPS or the Los Angeles Police Department and investing in affordable housing in the surrounding USC communities.

This is not the first time that DPS has been under scrutiny. During a 2019 tailgate with Alpha Phi Alpha, a Black fraternity, and Omega Phi Beta, a Latina sorority, students said they felt extremely uncomfortable with the increased DPS presence and the installation of fences at the event.

DPS did not offer any further comment to Annenberg Media about this incident.

In response to the death of George Floyd and nationwide racial justice protests last summer, USC established a Department of Public Safety Community Advisory Board (CAB) comprised of students, faculty, staff and neighborhood community representatives.

In February, CAB announced that it would host a series of 10 forums open to students, staff and faculty in an attempt to create a more transparent relationship between law enforcement and the university. The sessions ran from Feb. 8 to Feb. 20.

“I believe that [CAB] exists to kind of provide people with a sense that they’re being listened to,” said the aforementioned RPS member. “But so far, they have come up with absolutely no concrete recommendations about ending policing at USC, ending racial profiling, ending racial violence. And fundamentally, their goal is to reform DPS, not to abolish DPS. That’s the strongest difference. It’s fundamentally reformist and RPS’s is fundamentally abolitionist.”

The same source also said public safety means that the community feels safe and protected, but DPS (and policing in general) brings the opposite.

“DPS doesn’t ensure ‘safety’ for the greater community. Rather, the department (by adapting the institution of policing as it pertains to USC campus) inflicts racist and classist violence upon the community and our neighbors,” according to an email statement from the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, United Students Against Sweatshops Local 13. “If USC is to be made truly safe and inclusive for everyone, the university must engage in systemic and transformative change that invests in community-driven modes of public safety, and that makes reparations for minoritized populations.”

Correction issued March 24th, 2021 at 2:28 p.m.: This piece originally stated that RPS’s mission was to reform USC’s on-campus law enforcement rather than abolish it and incorrectly stated that RPS called for “non-law enforcement response forces” rather than the abolition of law enforcement. It also neglected to mention the organization’s involvement with organizations outside of USC. The piece has been updated to reflect those clarifications and Annenberg Media apologizes for the errors.