KU to implement 12 recommendations from task force dedicated to improving on-campus police force

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus is shown on Sept. 13, 2018.

The University of Kansas announced Monday that it would implement 12 recommendations from a task force that was formed to review the public safety policies of its on-campus police force.

The 12 recommendations, which include creating a police oversight board and conducting a thorough review of the Public Safety Office’s use of force policy, were developed by the Task Force on Community-Responsive Public Safety Recommendations, a group of 26 KU students, staff, administrators, faculty and alumni. The task force was formed in August 2020, a few months after the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died after pleading for air while pinned under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

In a campus message regarding the recommendations, Chancellor Douglas Girod said he “asked the task force to examine KUPSO practices to make certain that community members are ensured safety and respect – and freedom from bias and racism – in their interactions with police.” KUPSO stands for KU Public Safety Office.

The task force, chaired by distinguished professor Charles Epp, produced its final recommendations for Girod in November. Since then, Girod wrote that a team of KU leaders had been working on how to best implement the recommendations. KU published its response to the task force’s recommendations Monday, and Girod said KU would implement all of them. The recommendations were split into three categories: responses to behavioral health crises, officer conduct issues and advisory and oversight process.

Within the “Responses to Behavioral Health Crises” section, one recommendation was for KU to increase the response and involvement of health professionals — and to reduce the involvement of public safety officers — regarding students experiencing a behavioral mental health concern or crisis.

The document that outlined KU’s response to the recommendations stated that Douglas County is currently working on improving responses to mental health crises in the community through processes such as adopting 988 as the suicide and mental health crisis hotline, constructing a crisis recovery center and undergoing trials of mobile crisis teams. KU plans to integrate within Douglas County’s system of mental health care, but until the county’s efforts are fully in place, KU will continue to train its officers in trauma-informed response and in Crisis Intervention Training. Additionally, until the county’s system is fully developed, KU will explore the possibility of using staff with mental health training to respond or co-respond to suicidal/mental health crises.

The “Responses to Behavioral Health Crises” section also includes a recommendation to assess Public Safety staffing and steps to reduce officer stress and fatigue. The section includes current resources available to KU Public Safety officers and notes that two KUPSO employees are available for confidential support.

In the “Officer Conduct Issues” section, recommendations included publicizing the department’s use of force policy, officer conduct toward members of the public and procedures for investigating and evaluating instances of use of force. KUPSO’s use of force summaries and policy are now available on publicsafety.ku.edu.

The “Officer Conduct Issues” section also included a recommendation that KUPSO continue to gather data on the race and ethnicity of those stopped by KU officers, with the goal of eliminating any identified disparities.

In the “Advisory and Oversight Processes” section, one of the recommendations was for KU to create a police oversight board. KU plans to work on a statement of purpose and mission for the board over the summer and to have the board in place by the fall semester.

Here’s a list of the other recommendations:

•Better identify, understand, and respond to a person who may be developing or experiencing a mental health concern or crisis.

•Integrate KU within Douglas County system of mental health care.

•Fully adopt the policies, training, and supervisory procedures regarding procedural justice and de-escalation outlined in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the PERF Guiding Principles on Use of Force, and publicize these policies to the community.

•Conduct a thorough review of the KUPSO Use of Force Policy and revise it to bring it into consistency with the principles outlined above and recommendations from the Department of Justice and other authorities.

•Develop a distributed complaint receiving process.

•Appoint and train several officers as liaisons to groups in the KU community.

In his campus message, Girod thanked Epp and the task force for developing the recommendations, as well as the individuals who helped KU determine how to best implement them.

“As I’ve said since the outset of this process, KU for decades has benefited from having its own on-campus public safety office,” Girod wrote. “As a university, we can be proud that we embraced this opportunity to be part of the national movement related to policing and proactively sought out enhancements to the way we provide public safety service to our campus.”


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