Friday, January 29, 2021

Campus Safety Task Forces As Police Power (Updated with Signature Link)

by Dylan Rodríguez

2020 Freedom Scholar

Professor, Dept. of Media and Cultural Studies

University of California, Riverside

Police Restoration at the University of California

Collective movement against antiblack policing has proliferated among University of California (UC) faculty, employees, and students since the summer months of  2020. Influenced and led by the practices and frameworks of Black radicalism—specifically, Black diasporic, Black feminist, and Black queer and trans abolitionist organizing—a growing number of people affiliated with the UC system are challenging the university’s complicity in the normalized state violence that kills people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Korryn Gaines, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Tyisha Miller, and so many others.

The formation of the abolitionist Cops Off Campus campaign led by the UC systemwide group UCFTP (of which i am an active member), emergence of the Divest/Invest collective at the UCLA campus, and statements of commitment to abolitionist principles by the University of California Student Association are just three prominent examples of recent mobilizations that have drawn from campus-based groups, including contingent faculty, labor unions, student organizations, mutual aid organizations, and even some research centers.[1]Almost inevitably, this surge of activism has been accompanied by dozens of public statements from UC departments, university administrators, and police chiefs expressing varieties of concern, outrage, sympathy, and disgust over police killings of Black people.[2]

The administrative response of the UC system to revolts against antiblack police violence and “systemic racism” mirrors the broader national drift toward a reformist restoration of law-and-order, political stability, and respectable policing.  Relying on the triage and public relations model of administratively appointed “campus safety task forces” (in which university police are core members), UC administrators exemplify a process of institutional consultation, auditing, and piecemeal reform that installs the reproduction of police power as a premise of deliberation.

Campus safety task forces are not merely inadequate to the task of slowing, interrupting, or ending the asymmetrical terror produced through modern campus policing—including but not limited to gendered antiblackness, Islamophobia, queer and transphobia, misogyny, ableism, white supremacy, and racial violence.  Beyond this fundamental and unsurprising inadequacy, these task forces work to sustain and re-legitimize police power while extending the parameters of policing as a layered infrastructure of state and state-condoned violence.  To echo UCFTP’s January 2, 2021 statement, “Task forces allow universities to preserve and protect the violent institution of policing…. Declining to serve on task forces… recognizes and exposes task forces for what they are.”[3]


Audit, Wash, and Repeat:  The UCOP Task Force on Universitywide Policing (2018-2020)

Former UC President Janet Napolitano—who served as Secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama—exemplified the logic and function of such police reform task forces in the creation of the 2018 UC Presidential Task Force on Universitywide Policing. While it is beyond the intent of this short contribution to thoroughly detail the content and outcomes of its full report, it is worth emphasizing that the Presidential Task Force was solely concerned with improving the UCPD’s internal efficiency and restoring its institutional legitimacy in the aftermath of multiple, prominent incidents of police violence against students during the 2010s.  While Lt. John Pike’s pepper spraying of UC Davis students during a nonviolent demonstration in 2011 was the most notorious such spectacle, examples of the UCPD’s proclivity for physical and chemical violence against campus and community members abound.[4] Yet, of the task force’s twenty-eight recommendations, none alluded to this archive of violence as cause to reconsider the campus policing paradigm.   Instead, 


·      15 recommendations focus on data “transparency” and the rationalization of processes for filing and investigating complaints against the UC police;

·      7 recommendations address “use of force” protocols and police training for “procedural justice, implicit bias, mental health, de-escalation, cultural sensitivity, sexual orientation and trauma-informed interviewing” as well as “educational and awareness presentations for students, staff and faculty;” and 

·      5 recommendations outline the need for campus based “independent advisory boards” alongside measures to improve the UCPD’s “community engagement.”[5]


(The 28th recommendation is to create the implementation plan itself.) While Napolitano’s task force completed its work in 2019, it seems clear that the variously titled UC “campus safety” task forces created since June 2020 have drawn from her administrative blueprint.

The mandate for a renewed, public-facing round of campus police reform seemed clear in July 2020 when the UC Regents announced their selection of Michael V. Drake to succeed UC President Janet Napolitano. [6] During the late winter and early spring, under the authority of Chancellor Cynthia Larive, the UCPD had violently repressed the graduate student-led wildcat COLA (cost of living adjustment) strike at UC Santa Cruz.  In June, the Los Angeles (city) Police Department prevailed on an agreement with the UCLA administration to convert Jackie Robinson Stadium into a temporary outdoor jail for people arrested during mass demonstrations throughout Los Angeles after the police killing of George Floyd.[7]  

At the time of Drake’s appointment, widespread condemnation of UC administrators’ history of sanctioning law enforcement violence seemed to mesh with the incoming UC President’s poignant account of his own encounters with police harassment: “It’s been a part of American life for all too long, and it’s something that needs to stop and we need to find better ways of being able to keep our communities safe.”[8] (Widely acclaimed for his impressive academic and administrative credentials, Drake is also the first Black President of the University of California.)


To “Reflect Our Values”:  The UCR Campus Safety Task Force (2020-present)

During the latter part of 2020, Chancellors at individual UC campuses convened various task forces and advisory boards as part of an urgent administrative attempt to navigate the crisis of police legitimacy. Upon forming the UC Riverside Campus Safety Task Force in September, UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox described its purpose as a “review of our overall campus safety efforts, focusing primarily on operation of the UCR Police Department and its relationship to other entities on campus and throughout the community.”  While Wilcox offered the Task Force wide latitude “to prioritize topics that they believe to be more important,” he took special pains to address what he considered to be the limits of its charge:


I am not asking the Task Force to opine on the issue of whether we should maintain a police force. We are better served as a community by having our own police force, which reflects our values and reports to the campus. Without our own police, we would fall under the jurisdiction of the Riverside Police Department and the Riverside County Sheriff.[9] [emphasis added]


Two parts of Wilcox’s qualifying statement clarify the assumptive premises of the UCR Task Force’s convening.  First, while it is a common rhetorical convention for elected officials, police chiefs, and other institutional executives and administrators to invoke a universalized notion of “our values” in the course of narrating their policies and decisions, such pronouncements avert sober consideration of the ethical premises of the university:  What if “our values,” read as the institutionally enforced priorities of the university, effectively (though tacitly) encompass systemic, discursive, normalized antiblackness and antiblack policing at the very same time that they fetishize notions of Black student “success” and graduation rates?[10]

Posed another way: How does the policing of Black people, Black presence, and Black (intellectual, cultural, and social) life form the historical conditions of possibility for “our values,” which in turn cohere institutional notions of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” especially when they are applied to the work of university policing task forces?

Second, Wilcox’s preemptive dismissal of abolitionist forms of campus safety as a concession to the jurisdiction of the city police and county sheriff is a red herring.  This is because of the longstanding practice of “concurrent jurisdiction.”[11]  Put simply, city and county police already have shared authority with the UCRPD on campus and campus-owned property, and such is a common arrangement for campuses that employ their own police forces.

Under concurrent jurisdiction, a campus administration creates a mutually recognized agreement (memorandum of understanding) with city police and county sheriff’s departments that allows the university/college police to operate with relative autonomy on campus grounds (or, in the UCPD’s case “within one mile of the [campus’s] exterior boundaries”).[12]  Importantly, there is no inherent prohibition on the possibility of a university negotiating concurrent jurisdiction with external police departments in the absence of a campus police force, provided alternative forms of security and safety are instituted in place of the UCPD.  

The spectacle of the UCR Task Force’s one hour virtual “town hall,” held on November 12, 2020, evidenced the administrative leadership’s lack of preparation, research, and seriousness in grasping their topic.  This was despite the fact that, according to Associate Chancellor Christine Victorino, it was provided with a “shared drive with scholarly work in the area of police abolitionism [sic] and racial profiling.”  (Full transparency: this shared drive apparently includes at least one of my published scholarly articles on policing and police violence in the UC system.)

The hourlong town hall provided ample reason to conclude that the Task Force’s primary purpose—in resonance with the Chancellor’s protective pro-UCPD dictate—is to support and defend the existence of the campus police, while making non-binding, consultative suggestions to modestly revise some of its internal and public-facing practices. 

While the Chair of the Task Force (a local attorney and UCR alumnus) assured the hundred or so audience members that the group was “open” to considering abolitionist alternatives to the UCRPD, the prominent (and rather defensive) presence of UCR Police Chief John Freese constituted an embodied rebuttal of the Chair’s generous claim. 

In response to Freese’s description of the “diversity” of the UCRPD (“We have twenty-two male officers, three female, one Asian [sic] officer, two Black officers, seven Hispanic [sic] officers, and fifteen white officers”), i posed a written question to the panel:  Is the Task Force aware that increased diversity of police personnel does not lead to less racist, less sexist, less transphobic, less antiblack police practices?  The Police Chief’s rambling response to this rudimentary question further undermined confidence in the Task Force’s credibility and analytical rigor, given Freese’s central role in its deliberations:


We—like all police departments—we hire from the human race.  It doesn’t matter what color our police officers are.  Our police officers, just like any human beings, can have, um, feelings and things that are part of their lives and that they act on, sometimes subconsciously. As the leader of this department, I’ve always had a clear stance that we do not stand for any kind of prejudiced behavior from our officers….  [T]he best way I can answer that question, is that we do the best with hiring from the human race. I acknowledge that it doesn’t matter what color or the makeup of our police department or any police department, you’re, you’re uh, you’re dealing with human beings.[13]


Especially revealing is a passage from the minutes of the Task Force meeting held immediately after the Town Hall:


[UCR Police Chief] John Freese raised his concern about a recommendation for abolishing the police force; [Associate Chancellor] Christine Victorino suggested focusing on developing justified, well-founded, and implementable recommendations.[14]


While the Town Hall was nothing short of an administrative shitshow, the Task Force continued its work unabated, spurred by a January 2021 deadline to submit “recommendations” to the Chancellor.  Serious questions about the Task Force’s credibility have persisted, due in part to administrative incompetence in the appointment of its members:  at least two Black student appointees were not initially asked to consent to be publicly named as Task Force members, and one was no longer enrolled at the university at the time of their appointment (their name was still listed as a Task Force member in early January 2021).  Yet, questions of credibility and competence ultimately have little to do with the Task Force’s most important purpose: to simply exist for a finite period.


Task Force As Police Power

The public ritual of the “campus safety task force” reproduces the legitimacy of police presence by inviting criticism of its excess, dysfunction, mismanagement, corruption, antiblackness, racism, misogyny, queer phobia, transphobia, ableism, and white supremacy (etc.).  Such task forces are a production and performance of police power and are thus constitutive of, rather than external to it; their deliberations (including task force reports, white papers, and recommendations) extend the technology of policing to incorporate the ceremonial participation of critics, individualized and communal targets of police terror, and survivors of acute (and homicidal) police violence.  These processes tend to not only incorporate the direct participation of police, but also extend the reach of domestic counterinsurgency as a defense of the fundamental legitimacy of police power (violence) and police militarization (domestic war).  This counterinsurgency serves to protract and reproduce antiblack (etc.) state violence at the very same time that it solicits indignant outrage against it.  Yet, the omnipresence of police reform task forces at university and college campuses also occasions an overdue reflection on the continuities of policing and police power beyond “the police.” 

The university administration is police power, and university police are the direct expression of administrative power.


UCRFTP Statement on the UCR Campus Safety (Policing) Task Force is HERE

Signing page is HERE


NOTES   Photo Credit

[1] See UCFTP social media sites at, and (accessed January 2021); UCLA Divest/Invest website, (accessed January 2021); UCSA June 2, 2020 press release,; and Thao Nguyen, “Coalition launches campaign to remove police from UC campuses,” The Daily Californian, September 4, 2020, (accessed January 2021).

[2] By way of example, see University of California Office of the President, “UC statement on protests, violence following George Floyd’s death,” Sunday, May 31, 2020, (accessed January 2021); UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive, “Statement on George Floyd to UC Santa Cruz Community,” May 29, 2020, (accessed December 2020); UC Davis Chancellor Gary May, “Chancellor’s Statement on George Floyd,” (accessed December 2020).

[3] UCFTP, “Against Task Forces,” public statement issued January 2, 2021, (accessed January 2021). 

[4] See Dylan Rodríguez, “Beyond ‘Police Brutality’: Racist State Violence and the University of California,” American Quarterly (Currents), Vol. 64, No. 2, June 2012, p. 301-313; Gabe Schneider, “UC Campuses Have Disclosed Virtually No Records Under Police Transparency Law,” Voice of San Diego, May 12, 2020, (accessed January 2021); Tyler Kingkade, “University Of California Campus Police Have History Of Excessive Force Against Protesters,” The Huffington Post, December 9, 2011, (accessed January 2021); Paul D. Thacker , ‘Shock and Anger at UCLA,” Inside Higher Ed November 17, 2006, (accessed January 2021); Lauren Hernández and Sarah Ravani, “Students protest UC Berkeley police arrests they say were racially motivated,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 20, 2019, (accessed January 2021).

[5] University of California Presidential Task Force on Universitywide Policing Implementation Report, June 2020.


Michael V. Drake to become 21st president of the University of California

UC Office of the President

Tuesday, July 7, 2020 (accessed January 2021). 

[7] See Summers, L., & Gougelet, K. (2020). Whose University? When Police Pass the Baton to Campuses, Society for the Anthropology of Work January 2021); Nina Agrawal, “‘Violation of our values,’ UCLA chancellor says of LAPD’s use of Jackie Robinson Stadium,” Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2020, (accessed December 2020); “Statement on LAPD using Jackie Robinson Stadium,” June 4, 2020, (accessed December 2020); 

[8] Teresa Watanabe, “UC President-elect Michael V. Drake knows firsthand about harsh police tactics,” LA Times, JULY 8, 2020, (accessed January 2021).

[9] Chancellor Kim Wilcox, Campus safety task force announcement, September 14, 2020 (accessed January 2021).


Teresa Watanabe

African American students thrive with high graduation rates at UC Riverside

Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2017 (accessed January 2021).

[11] University of California Universitywide Police Policies and Administrative Procedures, January 7, 2011, p. 8. (accessed January 2021). Cited in UC Senate Systemwide Public Safety Task Force Final Report Submitted to the University Committee on Faculty Welfare (UCFW) 

June 1, 2018, p. 71. (accessed January 2021)

[12] Ibid.

[13] Task Force on Campus Safety Town Hall, November 12, 2020 (accessed December 2020).

[14] Task Force on Campus Safety, UC Riverside Office of the Chancellor, (accessed December 2020).

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