The Advancing Public Safety at the University of Michigan (APS-UM) Task Force met Wednesday evening to discuss commendations and recommendations related to public safety on campus.
The task force started with a moment of silence for George Floyd and recognition of the verdict that convicted Derek Chauvin guilty on three counts: second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
The forum then proceeded with the APS-UM Task Force’s summary and objectives. A slide describing the objectives included “conducting a review and assessment of the Division of Public Safety and Security’s (DPSS) current practices, identifying areas of strength and areas of concern and providing concrete recommendations for improvement.”
Daphne Watkins, Professor of Social Work and director of the Center for Health Equity Research and Training, addressed the diversity of the students, staff, faculty and parents the task force and DPSS worked with to inform their policies.
“We have worked with some of the most dynamic members of our community here at the University of Michigan,” Watkins said. “They represent various parts of campus, so we just want to acknowledge that this work was not done alone.”
Earl Lewis, Professor of History, Public Policy, and Afroamerican and African Studies saidDPSS consists of 376 employees, 67 of whom are sworn law officers. The other members include museum security, dispatch and technology security, emergency management, security services, hospital security, guest services, housing security and administration.
This semester, DPSS has worked on partner engagement with various organizations on and off campus, such as the UMPD Oversight Committee, the Students of Color Liberation Front and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. TThe topics discussed at the first two forums this semester on Feb. 9 and March 10 were also briefly summarized.
The first community forum focused on students’ public safety and experiences with DPSS. Many attendees expressed both an appreciation for DPSS and a concern for the lack of response to their complaints.
At the second forum, the task force provided status updates with their accomplishments and discussed specific ways to answer the questions and collect information from the audience.
In February, the APS-UM Task Force put out a Qualtrics survey asking about the experiences of students, staff, faculty and parents with DPSS and public safety. The task force found that there were concerns with DPSS having an armed police force, but many expressed appreciation and support for DPSS.
One of the subcommittees of the task force created six focus groups made up of students to create a safe space for U-M community members to speak freely about their experiences with DPSS and safety on campus, but student attendance was low.
The task force also recently conducted a healthy minds study to learn more about students’ experiences with safety, but the results have not yet been released.
In 2017, a campus climate survey found students, faculty and staff had mixed responses to physical and emotional safety based on their gender, ethnicity and race, Lewis said.“What we have come to understand is that public safety as a concept, understanding and an experience has evolved over time at the University,” Lewis said. “The University has engaged in its own efforts at what may be referred to as continuous improvement in this domain.”
Watkins summarized DPSS’s collaboration with the Ann Arbor Police Department and Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department in recent months.
“The effort to bring all public safety efforts under one organization has fostered greater cohesion and efficiency,” Watkins said. “It’s all about collaboration and cohesion when we think about ways to improve public safety on campus.”
Lewis said it’s important for campus culture as a whole at the University to foster a place of security for students, staff and faculty, especially in situations in which there is a mental health concern.
“Public safety means different things for different people,” Lewis said. “For it to be as inclusive as possible, we need to understand aspects of housing and the undergraduate and graduate health, we need to understand housing insecurity, we need to understand and make sure this vision includes things related to sexual assault, substance abuse, the ways in which we categorize ourselves, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-semitism, and the other ways that we mark one another.”
At the end of the forum, Watkins and Lewis were joined by several other members of subcommittees of the task force to answer questions regarding structural changes in the role of DPSS on campus, concerns from students of color and collaboration with the Ann Arbor Police Department.
The work of the APS-UM Task Force will end on April 30. The task force was not given more time to conduct their work after requesting an extension.
“We saw (the task force) as not really giving us enough time to do a comprehensive review of DPSS and public safety on campus, but I think many of us saw this effort as an opportunity to begin the work towards a comprehensive review,” Watkins said.
Daily Staff Reporter Kate Weiland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org