Report recommends campus safety improvements

After a year of evaluation and engagement with university stakeholders, Cornell’s Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) submitted to President Martha E. Pollack its recommendations for reforming public safety on the Ithaca campus.

The committee – which comprises students, faculty and staff – advises CUPD and university leadership on issues of public safety and victims’ advocacy, as well as the overall safety and well-being of Cornell’s diverse community.

“We are recommending changes to the structure of public safety on campus to improve a sense of belonging for all Cornellians and to address issues raised both in our survey and in our focus groups,” the committee wrote in the report’s conclusion. “We invite conversation, constructive criticism and thoughtful dissent while urging all members of the community to work inclusively to maintain safety on campus for all.”

Pollack responded to the recommendations on Aug. 10, thanking the committee members for their diligent and thoughtful work in preparing the report.

In June 2020, following widespread national protests in response to the killing of George Floyd, Pollack tasked the PSAC – which has existed for several decades at Cornell and was created in accordance with the New York State Education Law – with engaging the campus community to evaluate and reimagine the university’s safety and security protocols, including the “use of force, deescalation techniques and cultural competency,” as well as current CUPD policies, procedures and trainings.

The committee’s report, “Recommendations for Cornell University Public Safety Reform,” which was submitted July 27 to Pollack, makes four key recommendations:

  • Cornell’s senior leadership issue a public statement recognizing the damage wrought by the history of racialized policing in the United States and committing the university to enacting anti-racist public safety.
  • The university implement an alternative public safety and response model, to be designed by a working group charged to conduct comprehensive, data-driven and comparative research and to be fully operational within two years of this report.
  • A PSAC subcommittee design and implement a communication campaign informing the Cornell community of when and who in CUPD and alternative units should be called when in need of health and safety services.
  • The university recruit, train and deploy a diverse workforce specifically tailored to public safety within a university setting.

In her response to the committee, Pollack noted that CUPD and Cornell are committed to racial justice while also acknowledging that more work needs to be done, especially in light of our nation’s history of policing actions that have disproportionately impacted people of color. She noted that, as a first step, work is well underway to create the recommended Community Response Team (CRT) within the Division of Student and Campus Life. Four new staff members have been hired and will support residential life staff upon the team’s formal launch this fall. 

The team will provide support to individuals in crisis situations while collaborating within the campus’ larger system of care and will be the first responders to reports of noncriminal offenses and nonviolent incidents in the residential communities. Last spring, as the CRT began to take shape, team members provided early outreach and engagement within on-campus residences to raise awareness of this new resource.

“The recommendations are a first step to making sure that the appropriate public health and safety resources are matched with public health and safety needs,” said committee member Conor Hodges ’21. “Police responses must be limited to those situations which unambiguously require a law enforcement solution. The current practice of relying on police to respond to every problem ends up needlessly escalating situations […] I hope that the Cornell community comes away from the report ready to participate in the next step of this process: building the institutions on campus which will take over much of the health and safety responsibilities currently assigned to CUPD.”

The PSAC spent the past year meeting at least twice a month, researching and gathering feedback from various stakeholders, including students, staff and faculty, via a campuswide survey and focus groups.

“I want to thank the engaged faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students on the PSAC committee for their time and efforts this past year developing the report,” said Joanne DeStefano, Cornell’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, who oversees the PSAC. “I also thank everyone who participated in the survey and focus groups for their contributions to our discussions. Our work is not done, and the majority of the committee will remain for the next phase of the project in the fall.”  

Two feedback sessions will be held in September for the campus community to share thoughts about the report and its recommendations.

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Abby Butler