The Advancing Public Safety at the University of Michigan Task Force — charged with examining Ann Arbor campus public safety practices — will share a status report on its work during a second virtual community forum at 7 p.m. March 10.

Ann Arbor campus faculty, staff, students, parents and local community members are encouraged to join the Zoom session.

During the event, the co-chairs of the 20-person task force will share preliminary community feedback gathered from last month’s forum and community engagement survey, information regarding how the task force is organizing and participants will have the opportunity to ask questions based on their presentation.

“We have a great deal of additional analysis to complete before we can authoritatively conclude what the community thinks and before we can provide a final report. But some patterns have already begun to emerge,” said Earl Lewis of LSA and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, who co-chairs the group with Daphne C. Watkins of the School of Social Work and Institute for Social Research.

“During the first forum, comments ranged from those who felt safe and thought a professional law enforcement presence added to a sense of safety, to those who worried openly about an armed police force on campus. Individuals who responded to the subsequent survey elaborated on those points and others,” Lewis said.

To date, the task force has divided into five narrowly defined subcommittees to facilitate their work and meet their objectives. The subcommittees are focused on:

  • Understanding the past and current structure of the Division of Public Safety and Security.
  • Examining how DPSS engages with stakeholder and constituent communities.
  • Exploring personnel and human resource practices within DPSS.
  • Engaging in outreach and gathering new data related to DPSS.
  • Determining benchmarks and identifying best practices for public safety outside of the university.

According to a new Bentley Historical Library report, there have been three previous task forces or committees looking at public safety at the U-M since 1980. The report chronicles the history of the university’s relationship with policing through 2013, including the formation and evolution of DPSS’ current structure.

The 2021 task force builds on those earlier efforts and has been charged with addressing four overlapping questions related to public safety on the Ann Arbor campus, including Michigan Medicine:

  • How does DPSS respond to and interact with members of the community?
  • How do stakeholders experience interactions with DPSS?
  • Where might there be missing or incomplete data and where can better research render better decision-making?
  • What are recommendations for improvement?

“Even at this early stage, we are beginning to see different perspectives that vary by race and gender, age and status, student and parent, faculty and staff. They all intersect and inform people’s definitions of safety,” Watkins said. “That said, while we are seeing differences in how people perceive security and safety, there is a consensus that everyone has a right to feel safe and secure.”

The task force will share with Provost Susan M. Collins a preliminary report by the end of March and a final report by April 30. Both will be made public. 

With the expectation that there will be questions and concerns that fall outside of the scope of the task force, Lewis and Watkins said they anticipate the university will continue some aspect of the task force’s work beyond the end of this term.

“That kind of investment ultimately redounds to the benefit of all and aids our efforts to develop a safety and security approach that is best in class,” Watkins said.

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