Students, parents, faculty and staff shared their experiences with campus policing this week as part of an ongoing effort to determine what’s working and what needs to be improved at the Division of Public Safety and Security.

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The feedback collected during the hour-and-a-half virtual forum Feb. 9 will inform the work of a new task force that is reviewing the department’s practices and policies.

“We’re here to listen to you,” Earl Lewis, a professor in LSA and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and co-chair of the Advancing Public Safety at the University of Michigan Task Force, told participants.

He and Daphne C. Watkins, a professor in the School of Social Work and Institute for Social Research, and co-chair of the task force, hosted the event.

Members of the community can continue to share their thoughts about public safety by emailing aps-tf.feedback@umich.edu or by taking on online survey that will remain open through Feb. 15.

More than a dozen people spoke during the forum, with many talking about their interactions with police on the Ann Arbor campus. Others spoke more generally about police department defunding, overall campus safety, the role of armed police officers and the experiences of people of color with law enforcement.

Alex Poniatowski, a lecturer IV in chemistry, said he has participated in DPSS’ ride-along program and has had to call the department when he’s locked himself out of his office.

“What I’ve learned in meeting and observing and talking with our officers informally is that I think DPSS, to me, seems fairly disarmed and forward-thinking compared to other municipalities I’ve ever lived in,” he said.

Sheria G. Robinson-Lane, assistant professor of nursing, said she has generally had good experiences with DPSS. However, she said she is concerned about the disproportionate number of times within the health system that security is called on patients and family members of color.

“I think that the issue is less related to our security and more so related to poor management of how we handle communications (and) interpersonal reactions, to where it gets to the space where we feel as though there’s a need to engage security,” she said. 

Robinson-Lane said it’s important to think about how to create a safe environment where everyone feels welcome.

She said during her first week on the Ann Arbor campus, she waited in a parking lot for several minutes for a spot to open up. When one became available, another person zoomed in and took it. She said she approached the driver to talk about what happened and identified herself as a faculty member. The driver called 911.

Robinson-Lane left the lot, parked in a structure and walked to her building. There, she said, she learned that the other driver and DPSS were walking through the building searching for her.

Robinson-Lane said she has since met and talked with the driver, and the person does not feel as if they did anything wrong.

“I think it points a lot to the concerns that other faculty and students of color have raised about individuals feeling as though they do not belong on campus,” she said.

LSA undergraduate student Porter James Hughes said he was unhappy with how DPSS responded when he reported that he was being harassed by fellow residents of his dorm.

“To my knowledge, there was never any follow through. … It was simply brushed off,” he said, adding that he was genuinely scared to enter and leave the building and his room because of the harassment. 

LSA undergraduate student Zoey Rosa Horowitz said that during her freshman year she was hanging out with friends in a residence hall on a Friday evening before quiet hours took effect when a DPSS officer knocked on the door. She said the officer said they were being too noisy and that he suspected they were drinking underage. He searched the room.

Horowitz described the interaction as “very police-like, pretty hostile and intimidating.” She said she now feels uncomfortable when she encounters armed officers on campus.

“I personally have felt less safe in the dorms in particular, but just on campus, with DPSS around because of my negative experience and just because of their sort of militarized and highly police-like appearance,” she said.   

Another student, Lindsay Mattia, called DPSS distraught last year after an item had been stolen from her. She praised the kindness of the officer who took her case.

“He just made me feel really safe and secure about the situation, and I feel like he did everything in his power to help me,” she said.

Christine Lee, the parent of a junior, recalled coming to campus for orientation and hearing police personnel talk about how they keep students safe.

“My student is an out-of-state student, and we are very far away from the school. Knowing that the police will help secure the safety of my student, that’s very important to our family,” she said. “So I really appreciate all those police, what they have been doing.”

Last month, President Mark Schlissel and Provost Susan M. Collins appointed the 20-member task force, which will review and assess the department’s current practices, identify areas of strength and areas of concern, and provide concrete recommendations for improvement that are based on best practices.

The task force is among several anti-racism initiatives that U-M announced last fall.

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