Campus public safety demands inclusivity, too

To bolster support, university police should reflect the community’s diversity, says a public safety director. The levels of aid that officers provide requires understanding students on a nuanced level.
By: | September 22, 2020
Adelphi University public safety team now includes 39% people of color and other minorities.Adelphi University public safety team now includes 39% people of color and other minorities.

For as much as police training, equipment and technology have helped drive down U.S. crime rates over the last 15 years, nothing has been more critical than the partnerships among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

In fact, community policing, which emphasizes bonds between officers and residents, has taught us that police cannot operate alone if they’re to be effective. Rather, they need the active support and assistance of their communities.

Ray Hughes, Adelphi University

Ray Hughes, Adelphi University

Colleges and universities have seen that as well as any community. Now, as they redouble efforts to diversify enrollment and faculty, schools should be taking the same steps in their public-safety departments. It’s not only an issue of equitable hiring—it’s a matter of deepening those impacts of community policing.

In short, for any law enforcement agency to maximize community support, it must reflect the diversity of its community. On college campuses especially, a failure to honor that diversity can foster confusion and resentment among students and employees. It can lead quickly to a breakdown in that critical bond of trust.

That’s a particular problem in higher education communities given the nature of the public-safety role there.

College students turn to public-safety officers not only to respond to crimes but also for a host of everyday hiccups. When their apartments lose heat, they call us. When they can’t start their cars, they call us. When they need a walk home at night, they call us.

We set out to build an officer force that mirrored the increasingly diverse student body—a force that was more approachable and understanding.

We’re honored to be there. But the level of the aid we provide means we need to understand students on a nuanced level. That makes diversity on the force all the more crucial.

It doesn’t materialize by chance. Inclusivity takes shape as an articulation of an institution’s priorities, its ethics. There needs to be a plan.

In the mid-2000s, nearly 100% of community-relations officers here at Adelphi University were white. Only one was a woman. The words “diversity” and “inclusion” almost never came up.

When I took a leadership role in the university’s public-safety operations a dozen years ago, we set out to change that. We set out to build an officer force that mirrored the increasingly diverse student body—a force that was more approachable and understanding.

During the hiring process, we look for must-have characteristics including compassion and common sense. I’m proud to say that our department now includes 39% people of color and other minorities.

In real numbers, that means our force of 25 full-time and nine part-time officers counts six who are Black, two who are Indian and one who’s Hispanic. Six officers are women. We always have at least one woman working at night—which can help bring peace of mind to women students who may need assistance in the wee hours.

The path to this progress has required a variety of recruitment, hiring, training and mentoring policies, along with promotional efforts. All our officers attend annual sessions on Title IX discrimination, sexual assault and suicide awareness, opioid overdose prevention and advancing diversity and inclusion, among others.

It’s a model we’re constantly rethinking and refining. It’s not perfect, but it’s progress—proof positive that law enforcement isn’t some immutable entity.

We just need to be willing to evolve.

Ray Hughes became executive director Sept. 1 in the Department of Public Safety and Transportation at Adelphi University in New York. He assumed the post after serving nearly 14 years in the department.