The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

11-08-19-penn-police-emergency-response-team-dps-kylie-cooper
A Penn Police officer stands guard on Walnut Street in Nov. 2019. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Following nationwide protests in response to the murder of George Floyd and criticism of policing on campus, Penn commissioned an independent review of the Division of Public Safety one year ago, in July 2020. The report — which was compiled after a panel heard hours of testimony and reviewed hundreds of DPS documents — recommends a major overhaul of campus policing.

The report concludes that Penn must increase transparency about the structure, funding, oversight, and activities of DPS. Other recommendations urge Penn to reinvest funding allocated toward policing into campus and West Philadelphia initiatives, increase accountability of DPS, and "reimagine" public safety by reducing the presence of Penn Police. The report, which was released in April 2021 by the Penn Public Safety Review and Outreach Initiative, based recommendations on data collected during public hearings with the Penn and West Philadelphia community and documents received from DPS. 

The review process was led by Penn Law School professor Dorothy Roberts and Vice President for Social Equity and Community and University Chaplain Charles Howard, with support from Penn Law's Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice.

"We are reflecting on their opinions and analysis at this crucial time when faith in law enforcement is shaken by police officers who betrayed their sworn oath to protect and serve communities," Vice President for Public Safety and Superintendent of the Penn Police Department Maureen Rush wrote in an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian on June 3, emphasizing the department's commitment to serving the local community.

Penn President Amy Gutmann, Provost Wendell Pritchett, and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli wrote in a joint April 13 statement that the University is committed to making systems of public safety more equitable for the University and surrounding West Philadelphia community.

“Some of the changes recommended in the report can be made quickly, and we will do so. Some, such as how to reimagine public safety for the future, have a longer timeline and will require a broader and deeper effort,” the Penn administrators wrote. “Ensuring the safety of our campus community is critical, and it must be done thoughtfully and in a manner that guarantees the equal and just treatment of all.”

During August and September 2020, the Penn Public Safety Review and Outreach Initiative conducted eight public hearings where students, staff, faculty, and West Philadelphia residents provided testimony about their encounters with DPS, and individuals were allowed to submit written testimony on the Initiative’s website. 

The Penn Public Safety Review and Outreach Initiative also reviewed hundreds of documents regarding DPS operations, including Penn Police directives, accreditation reports, reports on use of force and racial profiling, data on vehicle and pedestrian stops, and budgetary information. Documents also included information about virtual patrol, recruiting materials, the process to file a complaint against DPS personnel, community outreach efforts, and data on private security company Allied Security Services, which is overseen by DPS. 

During the hearings, some participants offered testimony in support of DPS and Penn Police, stating the division provides assistance during crises and actively partners with local residents. Some participants also stated their interactions with Penn Police have been more positive than those with the Philadelphia Police Department, and that their presence reduces crime on campus. 

"We remain as one of the safest campuses across the country not because there [isn't] crime or risk but because we have the Penn Police force specifically focused on keeping our students and community safe," a Drexel alumna and relative to a Penn graduate submitted anonymously.

Other participants provided testimony critical of DPS and Penn Police. Some participants alleged a pattern of racial profiling by Penn Police officers against Black community members, and that police presence can be physically and emotionally traumatizing for people of color. They also stated that DPS messaging about danger in West Philadelphia can be exaggerated and expressed concerns about Penn's relationship to the surrounding community.

Some of the participants' critiques of DPS became a part of the report's recommendations, such as testimonies recommending Penn shift resources away from policing and increase input from the West Philadelphia community.

"[Penn's campus] is the most policed area in the entirety of Philadelphia, producing a climate of surveillance that has negatively impacted our surrounding neighborhood, and has led West Philadelphians to feel like they are inhabitants of Penn’s community, not the other way around," 2013 Engineering graduate and state House representative Rick Krajewski said during a hearing on Aug. 18.

The report included suggestions on how to implement its recommendations, which included increasing transparency by making documents about DPS operations accessible to the public and increasing input from West Philadelphia residents by establishing a review board to monitor DPS and Penn Police.

The report also acknowledged limitations of the review. The hearings were conducted entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which could have affected the ability of participants to provide a full testimony, and some individuals declined to participate in the hearings. The Initiative was also unable to perform a complete statistical analysis of DPS performance due to time constraints.

The next step in the review process is implementing the recommendations, Howard said in an interview with the DP. While he acknowledged that some recommendations may be easier to implement than others, he is hopeful that Penn will begin to move forward with the process in the coming months.

Penn is not the only university attempting to reexamine policing on campus. Last summer, Johns Hopkins University suspended the creation of a private police department for two years, and in December 2020, Cornell University's student assembly passed a resolution calling for the disarmament of Cornell Police. 

Howard believes this review is not the end of examining policing at Penn — future reviews of public safety could take place.

"These are ongoing conversations. This is not the last review of Penn or public safety, [and] this is not the first or only report on Penn and public safety," Howard said. "If there are great recommendations next year, let's talk about it. We always want to listen to good ideas, we don't need a big hearing to do it."

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.