Drexel University Police Department Review: Final Report and Next Steps
June 1, 2021
Dear Students and Colleagues,
Last June, in the wake of George Floyd’s brutal murder in Minneapolis and so many other killings that further energized the Black Lives Matter movement, we at Drexel committed ourselves to joining communities and institutions across the nation in confronting the ongoing challenge of racism and inequality, including on our own campus. At the same time that we formed our Anti-Racism Task Force to evaluate and develop proposals in 11 areas of university life, we also commissioned a team of outside experts at 21CP Solutions, who had worked with other leading universities to evaluate and improve their approaches to public safety, to conduct an in-depth review of the Drexel University Police Department (DUPD)
Now that 21CP Solutions has completed its work, we are, as promised, sharing their full report with the University community while simultaneously announcing steps we will immediately begin taking to implement its key recommendations. The 98-page report is robust in detail, representing the culmination of many months of work and the critical contributions of approximately 550 individuals, including Drexel and West Philadelphia community members and stakeholders. We are grateful for the forthright engagement of so many of you who participated, and we believe the resulting report sets a new standard in depth, candor and transparency. We hope you will take the time to read and digest it all. But for today, in addition to highlighting its key findings, we want to announce that Marla Gold, MD, professor, dean emerita of the Dornsife School of Public Health, and recently named senior vice provost for Community Health and Chief Wellness Officer, will lead the implementation of the single largest recommendation by 21CP: that we at Drexel together engage in an inclusive, community-driven process of reimagining public safety — systematically defining what public safety is and how it might best be provided, both on our own campus and in our West Philadelphia neighborhoods.
The report itself, which you can find on the Office of Equality and Diversity website [PDF], reveals that Drexel is certainly not immune to the deeply divided experiences and perceptions that community members have about the police, often along racial lines. This racial divide, reflected by both long historical experience and so many recent high-profile cases of anti-Black violence, is unacceptable to us as a university community, as we know it is to the leadership and dedicated members of the DUPD. Our goal is to create a teaching and learning community that feels safe and truly welcoming to everyone. And by starting with this candid accounting of where we have fallen short and what we can do better, we are determined to reach that goal together.
From August 2020 through April 2021, 21CP conducted interviews and focus groups, collected additional feedback from the community provided via a dedicated email address and phone line, and gathered and analyzed data focused on key areas as outlined in an October 2020 message. A Drexel steering committee with representation from students, faculty and professional staff worked with the team and provided oversight throughout the process.
We want to thank everyone who participated in this process, including: the team from 21CP Solutions; Associate Vice President for Student Success MacKenzie Luke, and the other members of the Drexel steering committee; Vice President and Chief of Police Eileen Behr and her Drexel Public Safety team; and all the focus groups, students, faculty, professional staff and community members who shared their stories.
21CP’s report is a rich, detailed and often sobering read reflecting the complex and varied experiences of both the Drexel police and the community members they are here to protect. The DUPD was established in its current form in the aftermath of the tragic mass shooting at Virginia Tech more than a dozen years ago, a moment of heightened national concern about campus security. Sadly, the years since have too often validated such safety concerns across our country. We are deeply grateful for the hard work and dedication of our DUPD officers, dispatchers and public safety personnel who have worked, especially this past year, to keep our campus community safe during an unprecedented pandemic. Many of you who contributed feedback for 21CP’s review shared stories of positive experiences with our police officers and dispatchers, as well as appreciation for their presence on campus and their responsiveness in times of need and at a time of widespread concern about rising crime in our city.
However, we do not shy away from the more difficult findings in this report, which reveal many of the same challenges associated with policing in municipalities and on campuses around the country: disproportionate stops and questioning of community members of color, particularly Black men; armed officers being dispatched to address non-criminal and/or non-violent situations, potentially escalating them; and a lack of good data with which to track and improve outcomes. We must be clear-eyed about the fact that too many members of our university community do not feel safe in the presence of DUPD officers. The report includes excerpts from some of the many stories shared throughout the review process from a diversity of voices — students, faculty, police and public safety personnel, other professional staff members, neighbors and community leaders. While they are distressing to read, we are very grateful to everyone who candidly shared their personal perspectives and sometimes painful experiences. Confronting the reality of our sharply divided perceptions and experiences of policing and public safety is critical to moving forward in forging a just and more inclusive path forward.
In light of the facts and feedback gathered during the review, the 21CP report makes two critical, overarching recommendations that Drexel will begin to implement:
Drexel should “engage in a community-driven process of reimagining public safety…. The process of systematically defining what public safety is, and how it might best be provided, to the Drexel community will require the direct and substantive inclusion of diverse community voices. This effort will take time and institutional commitment.”
The DUPD should “make a number of changes to how the Department is operating today. These recommended changes should be made to ensure better performance and more equitable outcomes in the short-term. Especially if public health realities permit students, faculty, and staff to return to campus in increasing numbers over the summer and fall of 2021 and beyond, DUPD and the University can change policies, practices, and processes to address some community concerns and needs – regardless of what the ultimate public safety approaches will be at Drexel in the long-term.”
This report represents the beginning of our collective journey toward reimagining public safety at Drexel and then doing the hard work involved in achieving what we reimagine. As with any department on campus, it is only fitting that we should take the time to reflect not only on what DUPD has done effectively since its inception, but also on the areas where we need to do better, respond to urgent social change and reflect fresh thinking about best practices. With your frank input, this report provides a roadmap for building a better, stronger, more holistic approach to campus public safety and health.
We agree wholeheartedly with 21CP on this point: “The Drexel community as a whole — rather than DUPD, Drexel administrators, or outside consultants — must be the ones to determine what public safety looks like, and how it is provided, at Drexel in the intermediate- and long-term.”
In the weeks ahead, we will announce next steps in that collective reimagining process under Dr. Gold’s proven leadership and distinctive insights about public health and safety. Marla has decades of experience working in and with diverse communities. She worked for equity and accessible care during the AIDS pandemic, worked with others to build our School of Public Health rooted in the connection of health and human rights, and more recently is leading us through the COVID pandemic. We will also immediately begin to work with Chief Behr and her leadership team at DUPD to address many of the specific operational recommendations also made by 21CP since they are committed to fulfilling the highest possible standard of service to everyone in the Drexel community, regardless of their race, ethnicity, culture or gender identity.
This is hard and important work, and it is just getting started. It is just one component of the collective process reflected by our Anti-Racism Task Force. We know it won’t be easy or comfortable. But we also know that we will only achieve our goal of a safe and truly inclusive Drexel by working together. We hope, most of all, that you will make your voice heard in that collective effort.
Executive Vice President, Treasurer and Chief Operating Officer
Subir Sahu, PhD
Senior Vice President for Student Success