April 9, 2010

Shooting blanks

Reg report does more to quiet controversy than prevent recurrence

Last week, the administration released its report on the arrest of fourth-year Mauriece Dawson by a UCPD officer in Regenstein Library. In addition to presenting findings from a month-long investigation of the incident, the report details a series of “systemic responses” that are part of the administration’s commitment “to implementing a set of thoughtful institutional changes that will prevent a recurrence.” Despite the thorough review process, the announced changes offer a web of bureaucracy, but little hope of preventing a similar incident in the future.

In response to the library review of the incident, which determined that the “processes and procedures [in place] are not sufficient for circumstances like those” surrounding Dawson’s arrest, library administrators will work with a student committee to draft a library code of conduct. But that code, which will look to “the best practices of peer universities” in order to “articulate what constitutes acceptable behavior in the University’s libraries,” will likely prove to be little more than a formalization of the same common sense policies that were poorly executed in the Regenstein incident. For instance, many of our peer institutions qualify library misconduct with vague and all-encompassing language, like UC–Berkeley’s prohibition of “any behavior that interferes with library activities.” At other institutions, the common sanctions in response to such a violation include asking a student to leave library premises, reporting the student to the police, and seeking subsequent legal prosecution. It is difficult to believe that the University’s library code of conduct will markedly improve upon these guidelines from other institutions, none of which would have materially altered the library’s response to Dawson’s behavior.

Many of the outlined changes to UCPD procedure suggest a similar attempt to throw unnecessary bureaucratic initiatives at the problem. Most notably, the University will create an independent position “to conduct investigations into complaints against the UCPD,” but the report offers no evidence that the current process of investigating complaints failed in either this circumstance or in related instances. In fact, the internal review and the temporary outside consultant substantiated the two formal complaints filed with the UCPD in response to the circumstances of Dawson’s arrest. And University policy already provides for an Independent Review Committee—composed of University staff, faculty, students, and members of the broader community—which reviews findings from the UCPD’s internal investigations. With an existing procedure for departmental and independent review that appears to have worked well in this case, it hardly seems necessary to assign these responsibilities to someone else.

Finally, the proposed “Cooperative Initiatives,” like the University-wide program training staff that interact with students, extend beyond the superfluous and into the insulting. Proper interaction with students is a common sense matter, and if a staff member is unable to treat students collegially, it’s unlikely that a brief seminar will help. If the University wants to implement systemic change in response to this incident and the outcry that followed, these are the wrong places to look.

If in fact systemic changes are necessary, those changes should deal directly with how UCPD officers respond to violations by members of the University community. Rather than “continu[ing] to train officers not to engage in [racial] profiling” and to avoid excessive use of force, as outlined in the report, administrators could revamp those training programs entirely or mandate stiffer penalties in the wake of police abuses. Instead, the report offers a litany of window-dressings that will allow this controversy to blow over—at least until another incident occurs and another round of bureaucratic reforms is in order.

— The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief and Viewpoints Editors.