Guest column by Executive Vice Chancellor for Educational Services and Support Marty J. Alvarado

As part of the drive to eliminate systemic racism in the California Community Colleges, college leaders are responding to the Call to Action issued in June of 2020 by our system leadership.  College leaders are taking a critical look at campus policing cultures and the programs that train law enforcement officers.

The nation has been roiled by acts of police brutality which have heightened awareness of the racial injustice associated with policing. Because our campuses are microcosms of our communities, there must be an active review of data and policies to ensure that campus policing interactions do not reflect—and perpetuate—the racialized patterns of conduct that might be found in those communities. Such practices make students vulnerable to criminalization and can chill campus and classroom climate for students of color.  It is imperative, then, that our approach to campus policing and our training of law enforcement cadets promote our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.  The stakes for our campus communities are too high to ignore this challenge.

We have already reported early progress on key elements of the Call to Action, and here we highlight strategies that can cultivate inclusive policing on our campuses. In the coming weeks, we will continue the conversation and share similar strategies, through a  webinar series starting in March, for improving the way our colleges train future police officers who go on to work in law enforcement agencies up and down our state.

Leaders across the system recognize the urgency of addressing this challenge and are taking actions to respond to the call to change policing culture and practice on their campuses. Here are a few examples.

Limit involvement of campus police in non-emergency situations

While a small percentage of overall arrests, student data have revealed that students of color were more likely to be arrested for classroom disruptions than their white peers. This finding follows a pattern that is all too familiar to those impacted by this reality and every college has a responsibility to review their own campus data to understand what is happening on their campuses.  Leading colleges are already using interview and crime data in innovative ways to inform not only how police interact with the campus community, but to also limit the types of calls to which police respond. For example, El Camino Community College has begun to develop strategies to build the capacity of the faculty to de-escalate classroom disagreements, strengthen the student grievance/ombudsmen process, and to train campus police to de-escalate classroom disagreements so that the involved students can resume their studies and achieve student success.

Shift the policing culture “from warrior to guardian” 

The work to strengthen community and campus policing requires infusing a range of diversity efforts, which includes diversifying the faculty experts that are part of the police training programs. Rio Hondo College, for example, is working on integrating instructors with expertise outside of law enforcement, such as psychology and communication, as part of their police academy instructional team. Through this work, the Rio Hondo police academy is building communication and conflict resolution skills grounded in social justice into the discipline and culture policing.

Make experiences of marginalized students central to reform

Lastly, a critical element of equitable systemic reform is being explicit about the people for whom changes are designed to benefit and what is needed for them to actually benefit from those changes.  This can be extremely difficult to accomplish—it requires those with authority to acknowledge and listen to populations that are currently being harmed by the existing policies and practices and to then take ownership of those policies and practices.  College leaders must ensure that marginalized students and campus community members are, together, a leading voice for informing change.  A leading example of this type of effort is Santa Rosa Junior College, which is intentionally working with the college’s Black Student Union and Black Leaders Association Collective employee group to understand and address equity in campus policing as well as broader campus climate concerns. The Black Student Union has generated a holistic list of desired actions that would improve campus climate and outcomes for Black students. The campus administration is actively collaborating with the college police department and Community Service Officers to address these issues.

These examples from some of our leading campuses can guide our efforts to redesign campus policing systemwide.

These efforts should include:

  • Limiting the use of campus police to emergency situations;
  • Relying on professionals who are trained in de-escalation or have mental health expertise to respond to non-emergency situations;
  • Centering the experiences and leadership of people of color in campus police reforms;
  • Improving transparency and the use of data to understand how and when campus incidents occur; and
  • Including non-law enforcement discipline experts in police professional development and training to change the culture from warrior to guardian.

Campus policing, as part of the larger state and national police reform efforts, is a complicated issue and the system has established a community college police reform taskforce to enable all relevant stakeholders to examine the issue and make recommendations for a system-wide resolution to promote inclusive policing culture and practices. We invite other campuses to share their experiences with campus policing. How are you holding campus policing to DEI standards on your campus? What are you learning?   Please write to the Chancellor's Office of Communications and Marketing.

As Chancellor Oakley has said, this call to action doesn’t end the work. There will be many ways for you to get engaged!