More than 15 students affiliated with Organizing for Survivors shared their personal experiences and dissatisfaction with Public Safety during a public forum hosted by two consultants, Regina Lawson and Bill Lafferty, from D. Stafford & Associates this past Tuesday night. O4S felt that the purpose of the review was unclear, given that President Valerie Smith had promised to conduct a review of bias against underrepresented students within PubSafe.
The review concerns Public Safety’s organizational structure, policies and procedures, complaint processing, and interactions with the campus community, among other aspects of the department.
O4S members’ concerns included the scope of the review, last year’s Public Safety survey, the consultants’ methodology, the timing and publicization of the forum, the lack of accountability for Public Safety itself, and their own personal experiences in dealing with Public Safety. In addition, O4S contends that the college has failed to be transparent regarding the fulfillment of promises made last year.
The forum was part of the consultants’ three-day visit to the college. According to its website, D. Stafford & Associates is a consulting firm that specializes in independent audits of Clery Act compliance, Title IX policy development, and independent, trauma-informed investigations of sexual misconduct. The two hosted a similar discussion the previous night, but that talk was restricted to RAs, DPAs, and representatives of SGO, as well as a student member of the Public Safety Advisory Committee. Lafferty and Lawson said these two meetings were the only scheduled meetings between students and the firm.
The scope of this particular external review was not completely clear to community members in attendance. As part of their demands last spring, members of O4S requested a review of Public Safety that would focus specifically on alleged bias incidents against marginalized students; they released a on Monday calling the external review “deceptive, ineffective and insulting in its current form.”
While President Smith did promise an external review of Public Safety completely separate from the one conducted for International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators accreditation in a letter last May, she did not establish a timeline for such a review. The review, when conducted, would pay “special attention to the ways in which the office handles Title IX concerns and treats women, students of color, and queer and trans students.”
This served as a major point of contention during the public forum, as students expected the external review done by D. Stafford & Associates to specifically focus on alleged incidences of bias toward marginalized groups on campus. According to O4S core member Olivia Smith ’21, the group prepared to lead the conversation towards the concerns they had about Public Safety.
“Because we had no idea what the structure and dynamic of the forum was going to be, (that is, we didn’t know if administration or even Public Safety officers would be there, nor did we know the reviewers’ agenda for the evening) we were prepared to be more disruptive if we needed,” she said. “The way it was structured actually lended itself well to the way we wanted to communicate with them.”
However, according to internal emails obtained by The Phoenix, President Smith wrote to specific members of O4S explaining that this external review is part of the college’s goal to be accredited by the IACLEA. This is the first time the college is going through this accreditation process, and external review is intended to help with that process. Smith went on to say that the D. Stafford & Associates external review will not review the college’s own alcohol and student conduct policies, but rather focus “entirely on the interactions between Public Safety and the campus community.”
When Lawson asked if students were aware of the website’s community concern form and bias incident report process, students shook their heads. Students also stated that these reports were internal to Public Safety, so they would be received and resolved by Public Safety Director Mike Hill, and thus could not be unbiased.
“What we want to do is make sure that if you have concerns about the conduct of Public Safety officers that you have a location to go to, you have a mechanism that you can complain, and what I’m hearing loud and clear is we need — you want … at least to know that [your concern] is not going into a vacuum,” Lawson said of their concerns during the forum.
Most of the meeting was dedicated to discussing the particular methodology of the review, and whether the reviewers had access to demographic data to properly assess bias in the first place. Members of O4S said it would be impossible to conclusively determine whether Public Safety or any of its officers have a bias against marginalized students on campus because of this lack of external resources for making complaints. Lawson mentioned that they have access to previous bias incident reports and college judicial conduct records, which do include demographic data.
According to Interim Director of Communications Mark Anskis, the external reviewers requested and received materials including department manuals, the College’s memorandum of understanding with Swarthmore Borough Police Department, department work schedules, campus survey data, several years of crime data and statistics and Annual Security and Fire Safety Reports, community policing efforts, and parking information.
Lawson later noted to participants of the forum that Public Safety officers underwent a training course last summer with Fair and Impartial Policing, which she said is “one of the leading law enforcement bias training sessions available.”
Later in the discussion, students felt there were no substantive avenues wherein Public Safety officers themselves could be held accountable by higher-level officials in the college. Though Lawson did note that students could report incidents to Human Resources, students also voiced their dissatisfaction with the response time of the office.
As far as the organization of the event itself, the public forum was not widely advertised to the student body. In an email sent by VP of Finance Greg Brown on Oct. 22, the forum was one part of a larger email explaining the external review. The college did list the public forum on its official calendar.
Across the O4S members in attendance, all thought the review was inherently flawed to begin with, though at no fault of the consultants themselves.
Some took issue with the consultants not clearly stating which standard they would use to determine if discrimination was found.
“I thought the forum illuminated the fact that discriminatory behavior on the behalf of [Public Safety] officers would not be the center of the investigation. I was shocked by the lack of any clear standard for evaluating what discrimination entails or what systematic changes can minimize it,” Daria Mateescu ’20 said, adding that she did not fault the consultants themselves, but the college.
Similarly, O4S core member Morgin Goldberg felt that the discussion during the forum allowed for reflection on the failures of Public Safety.
“For me, the experience brought up important questions to think about: is Public Safety understood, staffed, and trained like a pseudo police force [and] is that conducive to a healthy or safe community? What does a real restructuring of Public Safety look like? I don’t think D. Stafford & Associates can answer that, and certainly not at this point. In that sense, I guess it was productive,” she said.
Akshay Srinivasan ’21 was one of the SGO representatives who attended the forum restricted to RAs, DPAs, and SGO members the previous night.
“I personally thought the talk was productive because we basically got to voice a lot of concerns. However, I’m worried that the report won’t be very comprehensive and that it will be too specific to the IACLEA process. I appreciated that they wanted to meet with us, but I was a bit disappointed that their preliminary review didn’t cover a lot of what we were saying (which were like the main issues we had with pub safe), and so we were basically explaining to them what the problems were,” he wrote in an email.
Both Lawson and Lafferty indicated that there is no set end date for the completion of the report.
Students who wish to share their experiences with Public Safety or report a bias incident can do so here. The report form is delivered directly to Director of Public Safety Mike Hill and Associate Director Sam Smemo. Students can also fill out an anonymous Public Safety survey here.
Read the full O4S open letter to President Smith in Swarthmore Voices here.