Public Safety Advisory Committee final recommendations
Dear Ithaca campus community,
In summer 2020, I charged the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) with evaluating and reimagining Ithaca campus safety and policing protocols and structures. The PSAC, comprising students, faculty, and staff, sent me their Public Safety Reform report on July 27 and earlier today I sent the committee the following response. Given the relevance of the report to the entire campus community, I am sharing my response with all of you.
Martha E. Pollack
Dear Members of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC):
Thank you for the many months of diligent and thoughtful effort you devoted to preparing the Public Safety Reform report, which I received on July 27. Given the importance of this report to our campus community and the significant community outreach that you undertook to produce the report and inform its recommendations, I am sending my formal response to all Ithaca campus students, faculty, and staff.
I asked you to undertake this important work shortly after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd led to a renewed focus on our nation’s long and painful history of police killings of civilians, who have disproportionally been people of color, and spurred calls to work harder to achieve racial justice in policing. There can be no denying the damage that has been done to communities of color by this history.
As I noted in my July 16, 2020, community message, the Cornell University Police Department (CUPD), like Cornell as a whole, is committed to racial justice, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank CUPD for their dedication to the safety of our community throughout these many challenging months of the pandemic. This commitment to racial justice does not mean that there is no more work to be done; to the contrary. Indeed, as the committee’s report makes clear, “policing can be interpersonally neutral but still have systematically biased outcomes.” It is for that precise reason that we are examining our campus approach to policing.
The recommendations advanced in your report provide us with guidance to achieve what we all desire: an approach to public safety at Cornell that is grounded in justice and equity.
The committee recommended that we develop and implement an alternative public safety and response unit, to be fully operational within two years. I support this recommendation. In fact, Cornell has already begun this work by creating a Community Response Team within the Division of Student and Campus Life, to be launched this fall. We are investing heavily in this effort, with the hiring of four new staff members who will support our residential life staff. They will become the first responders to reports of noncriminal offenses and nonviolent incidents in our residential communities and will also monitor campus events to promote safety and well-being.
The Community Response Team will be an important first step in a broader alternative public safety and response program. I also support the committee’s recommendation that the university hire a consultant with deep expertise in racially just public safety models to guide the process of further developing our public safety and response program. The university has initiated a Request for Proposals (RFP) and will ask the consultant, once hired, to take into account the approach recommended in the report and to update the committee on progress.
The committee has also recommended the design and implementation of a communications campaign to educate the Cornell community about when to call CUPD and when to call alternative units. I also support this recommendation and, for its execution, will turn to the expertise of our in-house communications staff, whose work over the last year enabled the successful COVID-19 public education campaign.
Finally, the committee recommended that the university recruit, train, and deploy a diverse public safety workforce. I support this recommendation as well and note — as the committee itself notes in the report — that CUPD staffing today mirrors the racial distribution of both the Ithaca region and policing nationally. While we will work hard to achieve further diversity across various dimensions, this fact underscores the importance of our paying equal attention to ensuring, as the committee suggests, that there is an “understanding and empathetic mindset among all public safety staff.” The committee included several sub-recommendations to this recommendation, and we will carefully review and evaluate each of them.
In line with the community engagement that has defined this effort since its start, we will be scheduling two listening sessions in the fall semester to enable the campus community to share their thoughts about the report and its recommendations.
In closing, I want to again thank each of the members of the PSAC for your important service, and I look forward to the important and meaningful advances in public safety and response at Cornell that will result from your work.
Martha E. Pollack