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U police commit to community service

Conversations with students, faculty and staff shaping the direction of university police.

The University of Utah Police Department is committed to community service and policing with compassion, integrity and accountability. Since joining the U in mid-February, Chief of Police Rodney Chatman has implemented a variety of changes, including updating the department’s mission and core values to better reflect the university environment and meet the needs of those served.

The new mission statement, which was developed as a joint effort by those in the police department, states:

  • The dedicated professionals of the University of Utah Police Department exist to serve our campus community with respect, fairness and compassion. With community service as our foundation, the mission of the University of Utah Police Department is to create a safe and welcoming campus community for our students, faculty, staff and visitors. We seek public trust by policing with compassion, integrity and accountability in our daily pursuit of excellence. We nurture public trust by holding ourselves to the highest standards.

“It was important that our mission and core values reflected the unique environment of the University of Utah community,” Chatman said. “This is what we will hold ourselves accountable to and how we will evaluate our performance.”

The department’s core values create the acronym U.N.I.T.E.D.:

  • United: We are united in our pursuit to serve and protect with honor and to constantly pursue best practices of the police profession.
  • Networking: Our approach is focused on building collaborative relationships with our entire campus community.
  • Integrity: We hold ourselves to the highest standards of the police profession.
  • Teamwork: We value excellence in one another. Our goal is to establish a tradition of excellence in serving our community and pledge to do so in a transparent fashion.
  • Excellence: Our professional conduct is above reproach and we strive to be better each day.
  • Diversity: Inclusive excellence exists when there is an appreciation for the diversity of thought, identity and dignity of all people.

“These values will be placed prominently around our workspace — in the briefing room, break room, lobby, offices and on our email signatures,” Chatman said. “Beyond those daily reminders, we will consider these in our hiring and promotional processes to ensure all members of our division are thinking about, and embodying these values.”

Defining a new mission and set of values is only the first step in the evolution of the Police Department and in the efforts to regain trust with the campus community.

“I firmly believe that you cannot police a community that you are not a part of, and I stand committed to creating intentional opportunities to ensure our community has an authentic seat at the table and a legitimate voice in how police services are administered,” Chatman said.

To accomplish this, Chatman and inaugural Chief Safety Officer Marlon Lynch began meeting with students, faculty and staff about their concerns, ideas for improvement and hopes for the future since they arrived at the U five months ago. They have worked hand-in-hand with student leaders, who have been involved with the planning for the new public safety building and in the hiring of a new police captain, who will oversee community engagement activities, with an emphasis on underrepresented student populations.

Additionally, several new committees are being developed within the Office of the Chief Safety Officer, and some existing ones will be revitalized. These committees will include students, faculty and staff and will ensure broad representation in public safety decision-making. One of the new committees, the Public Safety Advisory Committee, will explore policies, training requirements, and diversity strategies. An Independent Review Committee will review citizen complaints of abusive language, violations of rights, excessive force and dereliction of duty brought against members of University Police. Following internal affairs reviews, this committee will be able to comment on policies and recommend procedural and communication changes.

While the current environment in which students are not on campus and many employees are working from home has made it more difficult to engage with the campus, the department has not lost momentum.

Lynch and Chatman recently joined Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) President Ephraim Kum and Vice President of University Relations Ayana Amaechi on President Ruth V. Watkins’ podcast, “U Rising,” to discuss the future of public safety on the U campus and how they are partnering to create processes that meet students’ needs.

Additionally, Chatman is participating in a series of discussions and Q&A sessions, called Conversations for Change, that is part of a university-wide effort to connect with students about the university’s response to the ongoing unrest experienced in Salt Lake City and amplified by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

Within the department, university police is updating the onboarding process to help new officers better understand campus policing before they start patrolling. This will involve meeting with certain campus partners, including ASUU, learning about the Behavioral Intervention Team and completing training on policies and processes unique to higher education, such as Title IX and the Clery Act.

In August, all officers and security personnel will participate in an implicit bias training conducted by Fair and Impartial Policing LLC, and all dispatchers and call-takers will receive a separate bias training in July. Officers will also be receiving body-worn cameras.

“Despite the work we are doing to earn the trust of the campus community, I recognize that we must acknowledge the historical role policing has played in the mistreatment of communities of color and other underrepresented communities,” Chatman said. “We must denounce and hold accountable police officers who engage in excessive force and disparate treatment of underrepresented populations.”

In June, Chatman issued a joint statement with Lynch, committing to confronting traditional policing methods that have resulted in inequities, biases and the mistreatment of underrepresented communities and communities of color.

Most immediately, University Police and security staff participated in a positional asphyxiation training, and the Use of Force policy was updated to ban all devices and techniques that restrict access to air or place an individual in an abnormal position for an extended period of time. Personnel were also reminded of the Duty to Intercede policy, which requires officers to report the use of excessive force by another officer to a supervisor.

“We strive each day to be better than we were yesterday,” Chatman said. “We will continue to work toward creating a culture in which our community feels comfortable bringing concerns to us and are confident that we will take them seriously and do everything we can to help address the issue and connect people with appropriate resources.”

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