Partners in Safety

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Daniel Lawson is the Director of Public Safety at the University of San Francisco.

On Sunday, Sept. 18, I listened to an NPR interview with a representative of the largest Fraternal Order of Police in the United States. He gave reasons as to why his board endorsed one presidential candidate over the other. In explaining the board’s decision, he stated, “…police don’t need to reform…” To his credit, he went on to say that our nation needed to focus on the social issues contributing to crime, such as lack of employment. However, the suggestion that there is no room for police reform, nor responsibility to study the underlying issues of crime, is shocking to me.

My 34 years of public policing, 13 years of private policing and nine years of academic study and research of crime, human behavior, and police leadership models has taught me that “reform” is a crucial element of any successful individual or organization. In fact, the definition of “reform” indicates “…the improvement, or to change to a better state or form…” My knowledge and experience in the field indicate to me that our city’s communities and police organizations are partners in both problems and solutions associated with historical inequities and failures of the U.S. criminal justice system.

Those who need the police the most often feel the least safe around them. It is also clear that the traditional model of policing which is focused on arrest, especially in neighborhoods of color, has been unsuccessful in creating safer communities. The perception of trust between communities and the police is squashed through this traditional method.

Although no social scientist can definitively articulate the reasons for the rise or decline of crime in America, research from my doctoral dissertation suggests that the police mission, organizational model and leadership model needs to be reformed to create the trust necessary to meet the needs of Americans today. Reform and problem solving works best when the community and police work together. There is a need for police reform, as well as societal reform. Both should occur in an environment of mutual respect, collaboration, creativity and ingenuity.

For the past eight years, the USF Department of Public Safety has intentionally taken steps in transforming our previous traditional policing model to a community-policing model that best serves our community as a whole. Some of the changes include the rewriting of our mission statement to better reflect the university’s mission and the values of restorative justice, which is a system which focuses on rehabilitation of offenders. We also focused on becoming a learning organization that supports and educates our officers and team members in making values-based decisions. There is also an emphasis to recruit, hire and promote team members who reflect our diverse community and who cultivate the community-policing skills necessary to accomplish our mission. We have and continue to offer workshops for our team to provide them with the most up-to-date tools needed to serve our community.

We also recognize the need to include our community in a collaborative, problem-solving process in which we listen to each other’s needs, study the science regarding human behavior and develop fair, equitable and effective policing methods to make decisions together in order to create and maintain a caring, trusting and safe environment.

The Department of Public Safety, in partnership with the Cultural Centers and the Office of Diversity Engagement and Community Outreach invites students, faculty and staff for a conversation about how the USF Department of Public Safety can better provide a safe, inclusive, accepting and trusting environment for all. Thursday, Oct. 20, 6 to 8 p.m., at the Maier Room in the Fromm Institute.

Photo Credit: Racquel Gonzales

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