PubSafe Officer on Leave, Accused of Racial Targeting and Illegal Searches

Courtesy of Laurence Kesterson

Between approximately 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17, a number of student organizations posted a series of infographicsslides on Instagram, alleging a wide array of instances of misconduct, including racist language and the targeting of students based on race, against Public Safety Officer Brendan Duke. The posts, which appeared on Instagram in quick succession, lay out nine actions described as “illegal/racist.” They paint a picture of widespread abuses of power and antagonism towards students of color. 

In one alleged instance, after Officer Duke demanded entry to a student’s room and began searching it illegally, he said “Even though I didn’t get you yesterday, I got you today. I might not have anything from yesterday, but today you are mine.” The incidents were reported over three weeks ago according to the Instagram posts. The fire, safety, and security log kept by Public Safety notes a Bias Incident involving a campus employee being reported on March 26th. In a statement to The Phoenix, Director of Public Safety Michael Hill confirmed that an investigation is ongoing but did not state when it began. “We take these allegations very seriously and we are concerned about the impact such incidents have on our community,” Hill said. 

“We call into question the office of ‘“Public Safety’” when Black students are in fact not safe,” read the caption of the Instagram post. “While we as students see that the severity of this issue cannot be overstated or the solution prolonged, the College has been conducting an investigation for over THREE weeks that has not yielded any immediate action or sense of safety for the student harmed. This should’ve never happened, but it’s our job to hold this institution accountable.”

Other alleged incidents included Duke targeting the only Black student in a group, illegally searching bags, and intimidating a student with potentially fabricated video evidence. Duke also reportedly intentionally misgendered a student, repeatedly referring to them as a “whatever” while speaking to them. 

The posts also called into question the hiring practices and training of Public Safety, since Duke was subject to background checks and training including diversity, equity, and inclusion. Duke served in the New York Police Department (NYPD) for 21 years before coming to Swarthmore and his publicly available record includes five allegations of misconduct, including two which appear to relate to the improper use of force. Duke was exonerated in four of the five instances. In the fifth, the complainant was uncooperative. The NYPD has long been known for its entrenched racism, including the highly ineffective and racially targeted stop-and-frisk policy of the last two decades: a disproportionate majority of those stopped were Black and almost every stop did not lead to any convictions or evidence. 

Swarthmore’s tendency to hire former police officers and prison guards has been a target of student groups on campus for years. In an updated list of demands released on Dec. 18, 2023, the Swarthmore Palestine Coalition demanded Swarthmore stop this hiring practice. 

“Public Safety needs to exist as an entity committed to providing students with security and assistive resources on campus —– and therefore its body cannot be militant in any capacity. By bringing former police officers and prison guards onto campus to act as Public Safety, Swarthmore is inviting individuals who were trained under conditions of militancy to police its student body,” the demand read. “This practice harms the students whose identities have historically been targeted by policing.”

Only a few hours after the original set of slides, another round posted by student groups followed, announcing Duke had been placed on administrative leave by the college. Hill also confirmed Duke’s placement on leave but declined to comment further. 

“While we cannot disclose details about specific personnel matters, we can share that the officer has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a full investigation, which is ongoing.”

At the time of publication, Officer Brendan Duke had not responded to a request for comment. This is a developing story, and the online version of this article will continue to be updated to reflect ongoing events.


  1. There’s no reason to hire cops or prison guards for this job. The whole job of public safety should be to protect students and workers, not to harass or misgender students. Hire Swat alums (specifically those who are not, and have never been, cops or prison guards) instead. They have been students there before and will better understand the types of public safety activities that would benefit the community.

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