Dear Chancellor Wilcox and UCR Administrative Colleagues:
Please accept this note as my formal response to your invitation to join the Chancellor’s Campus Safety Workgroup. I am writing to contextualize my response with a concise analysis of the UC Riverside Campus Safety Task Force’s “Report and Recommendations” of March 18, 2021, which was finalized after a mere three months of deliberation. I note that Chancellor Wilcox circulated a campus memo four days later that declared his unqualified endorsement of the Task Force document, claiming that “for many years, we have been striving at UC Riverside to redefine campus safety in a way that addresses the needs of our diverse community.”
I write to you as a researcher and scholar who has published widely on the topic of United States policing over more than two decades. My work pays particular attention to the historical conditions of police violence that consistently create asymmetrical casualties among targeted and criminalized communities, bodies, and geographies.
While the UCR Task Force Report acknowledges that “systemic racism exists in U.S. society and in policing, and must be eliminated wherever possible,” its nine recommendations fail to challenge the fundamental centrality of police power to the university’s infrastructure and everyday operations. At first glance, the Task Force appears to advocate a modest downscaling of the UCRPD’s campus presence. Upon further analysis, however, its proposals cultivate an expansion of police power through the deputization of campus staff and administrators to act as civilian surrogates of the police department. Perhaps most revealingly, campus employees in specific units (including Student Affairs, Human Resources, and the Title IX office) are expected “to pair and cross-train [with] public safety personnel [e.g. UCRPD officers].” The Report does not bother to elaborate on the substance of such “pairing and cross-training” other than to indicate that select staff and administrators will be expected to build collegial relationships with the UCRPD that, by extension, further legitimize and extend the reach of campus police power by institutionalizing what amounts to a civilian/employee shadow police force.
The paradigm of “campus safety” operationalized by the Task Force Report fails to remotely heed the widespread, growing body of both university-based and community-accountable research, organizational innovation, and institutional leadership exemplified by students, faculty, staff, administrators, and concerned community members (including survivors of police harassment and violence) at educational institutions like Peralta Community College District and Oakland Unified School District, both of which have effectively eliminated police presence at their college and school campuses. Rather, by appropriating and distorting a pedagogical framework widely used by abolitionist researchers, activists, organizers, and teachers for much of the early 21st century—“Re-imagining Campus Safety”—the UCR Task Force offers a series of recommendations that allege to take steps “toward narrowing the role of traditional law enforcement” by “[integrating] UCR’s Police Department into a more comprehensive Campus Safety Division.” The history of modern police reforms indicates that such proposals expand the bureaucratic, ideological, cultural, and institutional capacity of policing and police violence in their various forms, from surveillance and harassment to crowd control, involuntary hospitalization, and bodily (sexual) assault. Regrettably, the Task Force Report proposes a reorganization and redistribution of police power that rests on an “[integration of] campus safety activities, including prevention and response, more deliberately with existing campus-based programs that address issues such as mental health, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and drug or alcohol abuse.”[i]
Such reforms of campus police power replicate the widely criticized models of “community policing” attributed to well-known late-20th and early-21st century police administrators like Daryl Gates, William Bratton, and numerous others who have implemented scaled-up versions of similar policing protocols in Los Angeles, New York City, and numerous other locales known for rampant, normalized gendered antiblack police violence.[ii] To invoke David Correia and Tyler Wall’s entry on “community policing” in their indispensable keyword text Police: A Field Guide, “advocates for community policing claim that it offers a suite of best practices and policies that promote collaboration and partnership with communities as a way to enlist the active support of an entire community in the fabrication of social order.”[iii]
Widely read policing scholar Kristian Williams further crystallizes the philosophical, organizational, and strategic logic of community policing in terms that anticipate the boilerplate proposals of the UCR Task Force:
Philosophically, community policing is characterized by the solicitation of citizen input, the broadening of the police function, and the attempt to find solutions based on the values of the local community. Organizationally, community policing requires that departments be restructured such as to de-centralize command, flatten hierarchies, reduce specialization, civilianize staff positions, and encourage teamwork. Strategically, community policing efforts reorient operations away from random patrols and responding to 911 calls, towards more directed, proactive, and preventive activities.[iv] [emphasis added]
The UCR Task Force’s recommendations are attempting to solve a “legitimacy problem” for the UCPD in the context of unprecedented challenges to its institutional power and reach. “The legitimacy problem for police,” as Correia and Wall write, “is about the legitimacy to use violence. Community policing is not about making police friendlier, but about making police violence more acceptable.”[v]
Numerous members of the UC community have repeatedly testified that “police violence” is not limited to incidents of bodily harm, and includes everyday forms of gendered antiblack, racist, ableist, transphobic, and queerphobic harassment, surveillance, profiling, detention, and intimidation that manifest in the mere presence of a campus police force. Unless there are sustained and accelerated attempts at collective critical analysis, shared study, and concrete institutional intervention, the next phase of campus police reforms at UCR and beyond will directly reflect the logics of collaboration, re-legitimation, and deputization outlined by Correia, Wall, Williams, and many others.[vi]
I acknowledge your invitation dated May 24, 2021 to join the “Chancellor’s Campus Safety Workgroup,” chaired by Provost Liz Watkins. I acknowledge that part of the agenda for this workgroup entails “[integrating] UCPD into the new Division of Campus Health, Well-being, and Safety,” thus expanding the reach of the campus police to include mediated involvement in matters related to mental and physiological trauma, illness, and vulnerability. For these reasons among the others previously outlined above as well as in a previously published article, i respectfully decline this invitation.
[i] “UC Riverside Campus Safety Task Force Report and Recommendations,” p. 2.
[ii] See Kristian Williams, “Ch. 9, Your Friendly Neighborhood Police State,” Our Enemies In Blue: Police and Power in America (2004) (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007), p. 197-222.
[iii] David Correia and Tyler Wall, Police: A Field Guide (London: Verso Press, 2018), p. 130.
[iv] Williams, Our Enemies In Blue, p. 204.
[v] Correia and Wall, p. 130.
[vi] See Christian Parenti, Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis (London: Verso, 2001); Alex S. Vitale, The End of Policing. (London: Verso, 2017); Stuart Schrader, Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2019).