DPS’s Community Advisory Board releases initial report on public safety goals

The board reports that USC can not abolish DPS from its campus, but instead increase accountability and transparency of the department.

USC’s Department of Public Safety’s Community Advisory Board (CAB) released their first report of public safety goals on July 28. The 80-page report entitled, “ONE USC: A Vision of Community Safety for All” emphasized the need for an independent DPS oversight body, the university’s inability to abolish DPS, integration of the “two USC’s” that exist and other suggestions as to how USC and DPS can support the local communities.

The report documents the existence of “two USCs,” which refers not only to the members of the community that feel safe around DPS and the members of the community that feel less safe around DPS but also the different cultures between the university’s two campus locations and in-state and out-of-state USC community members.

“I am excited about the way forward as we begin to implement some of the transformative ideas contained in the report,” said President Carol Folt in an email to the university. “You will be hearing much more about the university’s progress in the coming months.”

The two broad general recommendations from the Board are to “re-envision public safety” and to create an “independent DPS oversight body.” They suggested doing this through 45 listed action items under four thematic pillars: Accountability, Alternatives to Armed Response, Community Care and Transparency.

Some of the proposed action items include ensuring complaints of discrimination or bias from DPS officers can result in termination of employment, reassigning services — like responding to mental health calls — and funds to other entities, maintaining more transparent data on DPS operations and creating trauma-informed mental health and academic resources for students who experience racial profiling.

“USC as a private institution cannot ban all police from its campuses,” the report stated. “Abolishing DPS would only usher LAPD onto our campuses, an outcome that, given LAPD’s checkered history, might worsen rather than improve the safety of all people in and around our campuses.”

CAB’s independent legal analysis concluded removing DPS could worsen community safety, as well as by the President’s Senior Leadership Team, which includes the university’s senior vice presidents, the chief inclusion and diversity officer, the chief investment officer and the director of athletics.

Independent legal analysis was provided by Robert M. Saltzman, professor emeritus of the USC Gould School of Law who served on the Los Angeles Police Commission from 2007 to 2016.

Hancock Alfaro clarified in an interview with Annenberg Media that he was a nominated member responsible for oversight over the LAPD during that time.

21CP Solutions, an organization centered on auditing the public safety of different communities, served as a consultant to the report. 21CP Solutions recently conducted a report on Harvard University’s Police Department.

The report mentioned the creation of a publicly reportable database that flags officers released from duty and who have reported instances of racial profiling as well as the development of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between DPS and LAPD.

“[We] also talked about utilizing technology [to report],” said DPS Assistant Chief of Administrative Bureau David Carlisle. “For instance, what if we had an application that when students had contact with DPS they could utilize a QR code to access a certain form and provide us instant feedback that we could track.”

The use of QR codes or community engagement cards is urged in the report to increase accountability and transparency between DPS and the local communities.

CAB internally reviewed university and DPS data that was available throughout the report. The CAB found that from 2019 to 2020 the total stops of Black (31.7%) and Hispanic (45.6%) people on campus outweighed the populations of Black (5.5% of students, 8.8% of staff and 3% of faculty) and Hispanic people (15% of students, 30.2% of staff and 5% of faculty) of both the University Park and Health Sciences campuses. This could be compared to 39.3% of the reported stops of white people, who make up 29% of students, 27.4% of staff and 66% of faculty on both of USC’s campuses.

It was mentioned in the report that this may be a “conservative estimate,” since not all stops are reported.

The report also revealed the DPS budget has increased by 350% between 2015 and 2020, with a 54% increase in the salaries of senior leadership within the department. Chief of the Department of Public Safety John Thomas attributed this increase to rising costs of living and additional costs of sanitation, fire and security services from USC events like football games and concerts that the City of Los Angeles paid for before 2015.

When asked if DPS would agree to reallocate portions of their funding to other entities, Thomas said that DPS is not in charge of making that decision but that the department is supportive of recommended initiatives that “unburden DPS of responsibilities that should be handled by others.”

The formation of the Community Advisory Board (CAB) was announced in a university-wide email from USC President Carol Folt in August 2020 following reports of longstanding discrimination by DPS against Black students, community-led efforts to dissolve the department and national protests around policing and police brutality.

Professors Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro and Erroll Southers are the co-chairs of the Community Advisory Board. Hancock Alfaro is Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations and Dean’s Professor of political science and gender studies at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Science. Southers is the director of the Safe Communities Institute as well as a professor at the Sol Price School of Public Policy. They are joined by 19 other members who are student representatives, faculty, staff, members at large or “ex officio.”

CAB reported hosting eight Pilot Conversations, 11 Co-Design Public Safety Sessions and five Kitchen Cabinet meetings attended by more than 700 people across the university and neighboring communities over the past 10 months. These participants included students, staff and faculty as well as current and former law enforcement officers and members of the areas around USC’s campuses.

Of the 11 Co-Design Public Safety Sessions, the report found the most frequent participants were USC Staff. Additionally, one session was held exclusively for DPS officers. The breakdown of participants for the pilot conversations and kitchen cabinet meetings was not disclosed.

Hancock Alfaro stated in an interview with Annenberg Media that around 143 of the 700 participants were from the communities surrounding both USC campuses, some of whom are also affiliated with the university in some way.

Over the past 10 months, Hancock Alfaro and Southers said the meetings with board members were scheduled biweekly but ended up being almost daily.

“It was an exhaustive process,” Southers said. “The 19 incredibly dedicated people that never flinched. We’re really proud of it, we understand that it’s just the beginning.”

This report is a recommendation from the Board rather than a direct action plan. “We strongly urge President Folt and the USC Board of Trustees to implement a process for developing a ONE USC community safety vision,” writes the report.“ Without implementation of the many recommendations we discuss in this report, we are not convinced that USC will successfully improve trust or ensure an environment where everyone feels safe.”

According to President Folt’s email, the university has already assembled an implementation team to assess the CAB’s recommendations.

“We want people to stay engaged,” Hancock Alfaro said. “We can’t talk about accountability in the report, and not be accountable going forward.”