The University of Michigan will begin to implement many recommendations from the Advancing Public Safety at the University of Michigan Task Force — including committing additional resources to the Police Department Oversight Committee and establishing procedures that ensure unified data collection practices — while recognizing that others will require further information, analysis and consideration.

That was the initial response in a memo from President Mark Schlissel and Provost Susan M. Collins when the final report from the 20-member task force was shared publicly June 10. The report examines the current state of public safety and security on campus and includes commendations and recommendations for the Division of Public Safety and Security. 

Following four months of work — that included reviewing data, speaking with internal and external experts, listening to community members, examining the history of public safety on campus and reading pertinent literature — the 52-page report contains 14 commendations, 29 recommendations and a variety of potential action items the task force believes will help the university enhance safety.  

The report called for additional research and better data collection, and Schlissel and Collins said work to gather additional data would continue over the summer. They said the report did a good job of identifying additional issues to consider, and that this initial review of a wide range of areas was intended as a key step to inform future work and to follow up on campus interests in a timely way.  

“Notwithstanding the challenges encountered trying to answer a number of key questions, the task force succeeded in addressing what seems to be working and what needs to be improved,” noted the task force co-chairs, Earl Lewis and Daphne C, Watkins. “Our report offers both recommendations and action items for advancing security and safety at the university.” 

Lewis is the Thomas C. Holt Distinguished University Professor of History, Afroamerican and African Studies, and Public Policy, professor of history, of Afroamerican and African studies, and of public policy, and is director of the Center for Social Solutions. Watkins is a University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor, professor of social work, director of the Vivian A. and James L. Curtis Center, and faculty associate in the Institute for Social Research’s Research Center for Group Dynamics.

The memo from the president and provost said, “Your commitment to enhancing public safety for all constituents on our campus is evident in your recommendations; your work will provide a valuable lens for future steps.”

In light of national events pertaining to policing and concerns raised on campus, Schlissel and Collins convened and charged the group — comprising university faculty, students, staff and a parent — to address the current state of public safety and security at U-M and to explore what is going well with DPSS and what needs to be improved.

“We thank the task force co-chairs and members for their hard work on a critical and difficult topic,” Schlissel and Collins’ memo read. “We continue to see advancing public safety as integral to the university’s mission of preeminence, its commitment to continuous improvement, and as part of U-M’s approach to anti-racism.” 

Upon review of the report and conversations with other university leaders, Schlissel and Collins said the university is moving forward to implement a number of the task force’s recommendations, some of which include: 

  • Implementing increased training and modifications to the Police Department Oversight Committee’s procedures to explicitly include review of department policies and procedures.  
  • Emphasizing the value of making additional data focused on stops, arrests and grievances about DPSS publicly available, as a key area for improving transparency and for building trust and accountability. 
  • Ensuring information about DPSS officer selection and training, the structure of DPSS, and the role of its divisions is more easily accessible to the public, such as through an improved website with relevant information. 
  • Reviewing and updating, as needed, the Mutual Aid Agreement that DPSS has with the city of Ann Arbor and other partners, establishing a regular cadence for such reviews.
  • Reviewing the results from the 2021 Healthy Minds survey — an annual web-based study that examines mental health, service utilization and related issues among undergraduate and graduate students — as it relates to policing and public safety; sharing the findings as appropriate.

As the third task force on public safety at the university since the early 1990s, this report builds on the previous task force reports. 

In addition to the many recommendations, the report also recognized numerous ways in which the university’s public safety operation is doing commendable work.

Some of the task force’s commendations include: 

  • The university’s effort to bring all public safety efforts under one organization that the task force says fosters greater cohesion and efficiency. 
  • DPSS leadership distinguishing between a “warrior” and “guardian” mentality, and advocating for the latter.
  • DPSS personnel demonstrate a commitment to community service and have also stated their desire to foster close working relationships with community members.

With task force members holding various perspectives on the role of policing and public safety, the group said it wove together scholarship and commentary that focused both on reforming current practices and policies, and that supports abolishing current practices and policies, in part, if not in total.

“Our assessment includes both perspectives, although more of the focus is on reform rather than abolition,” the report states. 

A point that university leaders and the task force agree upon is the need for further review and analysis related to policing and public safety on campus into the future.

“Advancing public safety and security on our campus will be an ongoing effort,” Schlissel and Collins’ memo read. “As we engage more fully with the recommendations, we will likely need to partner with members of our community, including experts on and off campus, and to establish other kinds of more targeted working groups to focus on specific issues.”

Tags: