UW-Madison Police Department Chief Kristen Roman shares her thoughts and views on various police-related topics — covering topics that are relevant here on campus and across the country.
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A Calling Together
September 4, 2018
From the phone, to my son’s late-night waking when he was young, to my chosen profession, I have answered countless calls – literally and figuratively – in my lifetime. Now, each fall I am privileged to answer a new call – a calling together in which I join others in ceremoniously welcoming our newest students to this campus community. In my brief time serving as Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief of Police here, I have quickly come to appreciate the cyclical nature of the academic year and our celebration of scholarly beginnings, and endings, which in turn lead to new beginnings. We celebrate these entrances and exits because students are what call us together here in the service of a common purpose – one that holds all the promise of the future. As I sit among my robed colleagues at convocation, I am proud to be a part of this team dedicated to welcoming, nurturing, guiding, teaching, and supporting these newest students and all our students.
At first glance, a police chief sitting next to deans, chancellors, and other campus administrators at a ceremony to welcome incoming students may seem incongruous. Instead, it is representative of the comprehensive approach to supporting students to which the University of Wisconsin-Madison is committed. Here we recognize that a healthy and safe student is more likely to be a successful student. The UW-Madison Police Department (UWPD) most certainly does not come first to the minds of students, faculty, or staff when considering all that contributes to a positive campus life experience. Yet the men and women of UWPD engage daily with our many campus partners and work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to collaboratively ensure safety through education, prevention, intervention, and resolution. Contrary to what many believe, police are not merely reactive, answering calls for service as they arise. While this constitutes a portion of the services we provide, the majority of the work we do focuses on prevention, education, awareness, and problem-solving efforts. From our Emergency Management Unit, to our Community Officers, to our Infrastructure Security Unit, to our Field Services Unit, to our Investigative Services Unit, to our K9 Unit, to our Lake Rescue & Safety Unit, to all the departmental support systems behind these varied and specialized services, as leaders in innovative community-oriented policing, UWPD proactively works to promote campus community wellbeing through collaborative approaches to ensuring safety. We serve in partnership to support and facilitate the educational mission of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and seek to cultivate a campus environment in which all students, faculty, and staff are safe.
To this end, UWPD initiatives such as Badger Watch, our Threat Intervention Team, our annual sexual assault awareness campaigns, such as Tell Us or Don’t Be That Guy, as well as various alcohol education and interdiction programs, and most recently our leadership in developing campus guidelines to protests and demonstrations are but a few examples of the ways in which we collaborate with our campus partners from the Division of Student Life, Housing, University Health Services, and others to ensure safety and contribute to a positive campus life experience for students, faculty, and staff. In addition, UWPD hosts biannual campus community forums, has established a Police Advisory Council comprised of various and diverse campus stakeholders, engages in relevant shared governance forums, and strives each day to build community relationships not only here on campus, but throughout Madison, Dane County, the State of Wisconsin, and across the country. Why? Because we are committed to our campus community, to the mission of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and to The Wisconsin Idea, and to always Reaching HIGHER.
Each new beginning brings with it possibility and hope. As we enter into this new academic year, I welcome our newest students and the many opportunities we have as a department to develop positive relationships with all students, faculty, and staff. And it is my hope that we are not only called together as a campus community for convocation or commencement ceremonies, but that we carry with us throughout the year the shared commitment that calls us together for such celebrations – a commitment to a lifelong process of learning that takes us time and again through an endless cycle of beginnings and endings, and out of which the greatest potential for connection, growth, and change exists.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
– Nelson Mandela
April 16, 2018
“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”
– Maya Angelou
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and like many organizations on campus and across the country, UWPD again joins this annual call to action to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence and to further our respective and collective efforts to put an end to it. This year’s SAAM theme, “Embrace Your Voice”, is centered around engaging new voices and the ways in which our words shape the world around us. Words matter. And their power is optimized when they are given voice.
We all have a unique role to play in preventing sexual assault and in changing the culture surrounding it. The role of police in this effort may appear simple on its face – we invest in education and awareness initiatives endeavoring to prevent sexual violence and then respond to investigate these crimes when they occur. But the pervasiveness of sexual violence in its many forms, and police response to reports of sexual violence, is historically (and sadly to some degree presently) fraught. Add to this the overall culture and existing attitudes with respect to gender stereotypes and sexual violence and the relationship between police and victims of sexual violence, particularly those from marginalized groups, becomes even more complicated.
So what voice does UWPD lend to the rallying cry to end sexual violence? What are the messages that we wish to communicate – the words we offer toward change? To begin, borrowing on the motto from the campaign launched in 2014 by the White House Task Force to Prevent Sexual Assault – it’s on us. Each of us must own what is ours and do our part to end sexual violence. As police professionals, we can start by educating our own, by hiring officers with the capacity to understand the complexities and sensitivities of these issues, and by providing them with the necessary and relevant training to best serve. At UWPD, we believe that how we engage with our students and our campus partners is the foundation for establishing trust. Trust, in turn, helps to foster a climate in which victims of sexual assault understand that their police department will support them in whatever way possible regardless of specific decisions ultimately made to pursue or not pursue a criminal investigation/formal charges. Our first priority is in preserving safety and responding to victims of crime with compassion. Justice and victims are best served when police start from a position free from assumption, bias, stereotypes, and judgment.
A recent report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) entitled, Responding to Sexual Violence in LGBTQ+ Communities: Law Enforcement Strategies and Considerations, cites alarming and disturbing statistics regarding the frequency of sexual violence perpetrated against those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and queer and illuminates the work we (police) have to do in best serving this community and all victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Many barriers to reporting exist, and for victims in the LGBTQ+ or other marginalized communities, these barriers are compounded by a criminal justice system that has in large part failed victims of sexual violence and in many ways re-traumatizes them. The decision to come forward to disclose or report is an individual choice and one that when considered in the context of various aspects of a victim’s identity and cultural factors (race, religious or cultural affiliation, disability, immigration status, etc.) is indeed a very difficult choice to make. When victims do come forward to police, a swift and meaningful criminal justice response is critical for preventing future victimization and in deterring repeat abuses. Further, appropriate police response not only fosters victim confidence, it also makes victims more likely to report future incidents. Police have a unique opportunity to help give voice to victims of sexual violence and to help create cultural change. To this end, it is imperative that we find ways to build trust and to identify, prevent, and eliminate bias in our own responses.
The UW-Madison Police Department is committed to prevention, education/awareness, and to competent and compassionate investigations regardless of the specific safety issue or crime. That said, our success in doing so requires that we understand the unique challenges that exist with respect to sexual violence and the important role we play in the criminal justice and community response to sexual assault. Understanding how and why survivors share their experience is critical to how police should respond to sexual or gender-based violence and vital to proactively and effectively addressing their needs. UWPD works closely with our campus and community partners in the Division of Student Life, University Health Services, Housing, Rape Crisis Center, LGBT Campus Center, and others on prevention of and response to sexual assault and to raise our voices in support of its survivors. One way that we have to get the word out and send a supportive message to victims of sexual assault is through our own campaigns such as “Tell Us” and “We Believe You.” With these messages, UWPD hopes that survivors will feel more comfortable in coming to us to report an assault. While we understand that a video or billboard message in and of itself isn’t likely to prompt a decision to report, we believe these campaigns combined with other dedicated efforts help raise awareness, further the conversation, and positively contribute to the broader campus culture and climate.
In addition to our campus partnerships and the collaborative, proactive work we do toward sexual assault prevention, awareness, and communication, UWPD officers receive initial and ongoing training not only in conducting sexual assault investigations, but in related topics such as implicit bias, cultural competency, ethics, professional communications, interviewing, and report-writing. Our sensitive crimes detectives have received specialized training in trauma-informed investigations, and it is our standard practice to connect victims with advocacy support at the earliest possible opportunity. UWPD policies and training direct officers to conduct sensitive and thorough investigations, to refer victims to available resources as appropriate, and to inform them of their rights as victims whether in criminal justice processes, in campus conduct processes, or both. Providing victims with the opportunity to make informed choices empowers them to choose which, if any, accountability options may be best for them.
SAAM 2018 encourages each of us to embrace our voice and to use our voice to become an agent for change. As a young officer with the Madison Police Department in the early 1990’s, by policy only female officers were sent to reports of sexual assault. I recall vividly the first sexual assault to which I responded. The tears and the fears of the victim – a woman barely younger than I was at the time – changed me forever. Her story of sexual trauma and survival, and the stories of far too many women that have followed during my career are lessons in courage and in the power of speaking up and speaking out. Their stories have not only shaped me and the work I do, they remind me of the profound responsibility we have as police officers to serve victims with open minds and hearts, to conduct competent investigations, and to do what we can, wherever we can, to speak out about sexual violence. The collective UWPD voice offers support and reassurance to sexual assault survivors and encourages victims of sexual violence to embrace their own voice. Together, our words – our voice – can change the narrative and create a culture of respect, equality, and safety.
February 14, 2018
“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”
– Susan David
I’ve never been a fan of February. February is that unfortunate month standing between us and spring. Like the first post-lunch conference presenter, or the safety instructions mindlessly issued by flight attendants, or a colonoscopy, February is something to be endured. Lest you think I’m being too hard on February, the month does offer a highlight or two in an otherwise relentlessly cold and gray string of days. For instance, it is the month during which my son was born and who doesn’t like roses and chocolates for Valentine’s Day? And as if it somehow knows how tired we are of winter each year at this time, February throws us a bone by lasting only 28-29 days tops. Of course, every four years we can look forward to watching athletes from around the globe make the most out of winter by hurtling down snowy mountains on skinny fiberglass planks, launching themselves from snowy high jumps hundreds of feet in the air, flying down iced chutes at 80 mph on sleds, wearing bladed shoes to dance, jump, glide, and slap pucks into nets, or surfing giant icy tubes cut in half. So thank you, February, for that.
For many people, February finds bold and daring new year’s resolutions giving way to old habits and routines. As winter wears on it can wear us down a bit, making it difficult to remain resolute against the pull toward the familiar and the comfortable. But the mission and vision of UWPD are rooted in a commitment to Reaching HIGHER and this commitment demands that we resist the pull of “business as usual” and instead push past comfort zones in the interest of continuous improvement. To this end, I believe it’s important to occasionally take stock of where we are and where we’ve been in order to set a course for where we want to go. This inventory is more than a list of achievements – it’s a roadmap to successful and collaborative policing that not only shows us what we are capable of but reminds us as well of mistakes made and lessons learned.
Looking back at my first year as chief here, I am certainly proud of the many things we have accomplished together as a department and as a campus community. During this past year, I hired 24 new employees, made 16 promotions, swore in 14 new officers and ushered four employees into retirement. We established the first UWPD Employee Advisory Council comprised of elected representatives from various department work units. This group worked on employee issues ranging from vacation pick processes to uniform adjustments to equipment needs – and together we improved information sharing and department transparency. We bolstered our partnership with the Madison Police Department through improved communication, crowd management support at Freakfest, collaborative training opportunities, and special team support. We worked with UW’s Center for Healthy Minds to apply for and receive grant funding to include UWPD officers in a two-year study researching mindfulness and resiliency for police officers. We implemented a formal employee recognition process to acknowledge and document exemplary performance and hosted our first New Employee/Promotion Reception. We partnered with the Division of Student Life to develop response guidelines for campus demonstrations and protests, and established an Incident Review Group comprised of key campus stakeholders to gather information about specific incidents that have occurred on certain campuses across the country, such as the active killer at Ohio State or the tragic protests at University of Virginia/Charlottesville, in order to identify our own potential vulnerabilities and areas in need of attention or improvement. We hosted our first in an ongoing series of Community Forums, conducted webchats to engage the community in conversations about campus safety, and after months of collaborative planning and discussion, this past January we convened the first UWPD Police Advisory Council. Comprised of various and diverse campus stakeholders, the Police Advisory Council acts in an advisory capacity to provide community input and feedback. The council will accept, review, and discuss concerns voiced by students, faculty, and staff and provide input on programs, projects, and policies aimed at improving campus safety. These are but a handful of our many successes this past year. Not an organization accustomed to resting on our laurels, members of UWPD understand and believe in the importance of advancing our vision to support and facilitate the educational mission of the university and cultivate a campus environment in which all students, faculty, and staff are safe. To this end, we’ve worked throughout this past year to develop a four-year strategic plan.
Building on the mission, vision, and core values of UWPD, our strategic plan is framed around four identified priority areas:
- Employee Recruitment, Hiring, and Training
- Employee Health, Growth, and Development
- Organizational Culture and Climate
- Community Outreach and Collaboration
All four of these strategic priority areas are inextricably linked and serve a primary objective: individual, organizational, and community wellness. Our success in recruiting and retaining qualified, diverse, and dedicated employees must be supported by a thoughtful and relevant hiring strategy. Once hired, our initial and ongoing training and departmental systems must promote individual employee health, growth, and development. This, in turn, fosters a healthy organizational culture in which employees feel included, empowered, prepared, and motivated toward positive community engagement and collaboration – all in the service of ensuring safety and wellbeing. I look forward to sharing more information in the coming months regarding specific projects we will begin working on in each of these areas. In addition, strategic plan progress updates will be regularly provided to the Police Advisory Council and their insights, feedback, and guidance will be essential to this ongoing process.
In her poignant TED talk entitled, “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage,” Susan David notes that, “At a time of greater complexity, unprecedented technological, political and economic change, we are seeing how people’s tendency is more and more to lock down into rigid responses to their emotions”. Her message encourages us to allow ourselves to sit with, learn from, and support one another in the “messy, tender business of life” and further reminds us that it is only by learning to be comfortable with discomfort that we can be our best selves and truly flourish as individuals, as organizations, as a community. Growth and improvement require that we take occasional inventory of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to go. It requires more than just showing up. It requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to wade through the muck and to step outside our comfort zones. With a little over a year under my belt now, I am ever more committed to Reaching HIGHER and have come to better understand that the key to surviving the Februaries in life is in our ability to keep moving, in all ways, forward.
November 20, 2017
The origin of the word climate dates back to 1375, from Old French climat, from Latin clima – “to slope”, from Proto-Indo-European klei – “to lean”. In its earliest and still most common usage, climate refers to the weather in some location averaged over a long period of time. In this sense, climate is an aggregate of environmental conditions with a particular slope or lean developed over many years and as such climate change can only be effected over time. When considered in the context of the recently released UW-Madison Campus Climate Survey results, I’m drawn to these original meanings as a framework within which to examine and better understand the various factors that shape our campus climate, the different ways in which those in the same location experience its climate, and the challenges inherent in changing the slope or lean of something created over many years.
The goal of the Campus Climate Survey was to understand students’ experiences with and perceptions about campus climate and diversity, including how people of different backgrounds and identities experience life at UW-Madison. While most students, especially majority students, reported a positive campus climate at UW-Madison, across many survey questions students from historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups reported less positive views of campus climate, to include a lower level of comfort in contacting the UW-Madison Police Department (UWPD). The fact that Trans/non-binary, LGBQ, Students of Color, and students with a disability reported that they were less likely to feel comfortable contacting UWPD if they had a problem is at best disheartening and further illuminates the trust challenges facing not only our department but the department across the street and those across the nation.
UWPD is committed to serving all members of our campus community. As a public servant, a Badger, a longtime Madison resident, and UWPD Chief, I am deeply concerned about any reported community reluctance to reach out to police for assistance. I understand that there are many social and political obstacles in place that inhibit/prevent certain individuals or groups from officially reporting problems to police and that many of these are beyond the ability of the police alone to eliminate. But to the extent that UWPD can identify and eliminate specific barriers, work collaboratively with our community to positively impact campus climate and build trust with those who are reluctant to turn to our department for help, we will invest the necessary time and resources wherever possible.
So what can we do? Scientists offer two strategies for addressing climate change: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation involves limiting the extent of damage, while adaptation means changing the way we as a society live in response to the current/changing climate. UWPD endeavors to mitigate existing campus climate challenges through numerous ongoing outreach efforts such as our Community Officers, LGBTQ Liaison Officers, and CARE Team programs; through participation in various community engagement opportunities such as the Amigos en Azul program and United Way Immigration Task Force; through awareness and education initiatives such as our “We Believe You” and “Tell Us” campaigns; through ongoing cultural competency and implicit bias training; and through continued focus on improving our recruitment and hiring processes in an effort to create greater diversity within our ranks. Addressing climate change through adaptation strategies means that as a campus community and as a police department we cannot simply accept the status quo and must instead explore ways to individually and collectively reduce our “carbon footprint”. This principle is embodied in our UWPD “Reaching HIGHER” core values which not only ground us in the daily practice of serving our community with respect, integrity, compassion, and honor, but remind us that there is always room for improvement. As guardians dedicated to promoting community health and safety, UWPD is committed to continuous improvement. This commitment to continuous improvement means that we seek to foster healthy adaptation to changing environments and community expectations and that we welcome every opportunity to listen, to engage, and to cultivate trust through open and honest communication.
The challenged relationships that exist between police and marginalized groups have been shaped over many years. And while the current climate as negatively experienced by some of our UW students is not exclusively of our (UWPD) making, it is certainly one to which police have most often unintentionally, though arguably at times intentionally contributed over time. Of course, as with the climate change/global warming debate, we must first acknowledge that a problem exists and examine our role in creating it. To this end, UWPD regularly reviews department policy, procedure, and training, and we hold ourselves to rigorous best practice standards through our triple accreditation distinction. In addition, UWPD continues to establish collaborative mechanisms by which we can solicit and receive community input and feedback. By the close of this semester we will have in place the first UWPD Police Advisory Council, and on November 27th at 4:00 PM we will host the first of many community forums to engage those interested in discussion, address campus safety concerns, and answer questions. Lastly, as a campus community we must also accept that any remedy to a slope or climate long in the making and shaped by many factors, will require both a willingness to work together, and the patience necessary to effect significant and meaningful change over time.
On The Side of Peace
September 6, 2017
The warnings started from day one. Since I set out on this new adventure as Chief of the UW-Madison Police Department last January, nearly everyone I have met here on campus has issued me the same warning thinly disguised as advice: “Just wait until the fall!” Yet even as the words were spoken, there was a twinkle in the eye of their issuer and a flash of energy borne of eager anticipation that belied the dire warning. The truth is that this is what we have been waiting for all summer. It’s why we are here and why we do the work we do. The fall semester is an annual rite of passage that brings with it challenge, possibility, and hope.
Fall has always been my favorite time of year. When I was a student here, fall meant the start of another volleyball season and the opportunity to strive to be better – as a player, as a student, as a person – than the year before. And while each new academic year brought new challenges, it also brought new friends, new resources, and cumulative knowledge. Now, as I head into my first fall semester at the helm of the UWPD, I welcome the opportunities that we have as a department and as guardians of this campus community to be better, to engage existing and new campus partners to help define and fulfill our mission, and to further build upon UWPD’s solid foundation of problem-oriented community policing.
This does not mean that I do not heed the warnings of those who have been serving our campus community as faculty, staff, or administrators, for many seasons. I understand that with the start of another academic year comes a more demanding pace and the various challenges that a thriving and increasingly more diverse campus community can present. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face at this particular time as a campus community – a challenge currently facing every campus community – is how we will choose to respond to open debate and critique inherent in the pursuit of knowledge.
Recent events in Charlottesville, Berkeley, Boston, Phoenix, and our own blemished history offer us lessons as well as an opportunity to do better – to be better. UW-Madison leadership has been consistent and clear in our message. Our message unequivocally denounces the use of violence in the service of racist and anti-Semitic ideology and groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis. Our message emphasizes the value of diversity and a firm belief that the pursuit of knowledge is best served when it includes diversity of thought, experience, and being. Our message reinforces our commitment to peaceful free expression and exchange of differing viewpoints, even those that seemingly or inherently violate the values for which this campus stands. Our message seeks to unite this campus around a common purpose – that of listening, learning, and growing not despite our many differences but because of them.
As your Chief, I understand the vital role that the UWPD plays in the facilitation of open debate and the free exchange of ideas. Indeed I and all UWPD officers have sworn an oath to uphold these and other constitutional principles. While some may wish for police to use our authority and ability to exercise various levels of force to obstruct or entirely shut down any expression of ideologies espousing hate, the role of police in a free society demands professional neutrality. Regardless of our personally held beliefs or opinions, as peacekeepers charged with the responsibility to safely facilitate expressions of the First Amendment, there is only one side on which police can and should choose to be: on the side of peace.
To this end, the UWPD is committed to collaborating with campus partners like the Division of Student Life, Chief Diversity Officer, Director of Community Relations, Registered Student Organizations, and others to successfully facilitate peaceful demonstrations and safely provide for the expression of First Amendment rights. Voluntary compliance with the guidelines for protests and demonstrations that we have established and continue to assess is always our primary objective. As such, the UWPD philosophy, training, planning and approach to crowd management emphasizes the importance of communication before, during, and following these events. We will only employ the minimum level of intervention necessary to address actions that threaten the safety of our community members or of our campus, and only when voluntary compliance options have been exhausted or are not an option under the circumstances. The UWPD will research and evaluate potential campus speakers and events that raise safety concerns to determine whether or not a significant likelihood for violence is associated, and make recommendations to campus administrators up to and including the Chancellor as to whether or not an event can safely take place here on campus and if so what steps need to be taken to protect our community.
Peaceful protest has been a part of our campus culture for more than half a century. And historically, the role of police in campus protests and demonstrations here and across the country has admittedly been fraught with challenges. But in every challenge lies possibility. As summer comes to a close and we welcome new and returning students this fall, I look forward to all the possibilities we have before us to engage in open debate and conversation. While there is always more work to be done, we are a department and a campus committed to creating a community where everyone feels safe and has the ability to thrive. It is my hope that together we will meet these many challenges and possibilities with patience and with peace.
“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
Advancing the Vision
April 20, 2017
“Members of communities are key partners in creating public safety, so communities and police need mechanisms to engage with each other in consistent and meaningful ways.”
– President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing
During the process that led to my selection as UWPD Chief of Police, I was asked to publicly present my vision of a successful campus police department and to outline the strategies I would employ to advance this vision. Central to the vision I shared, is the understanding that trust is cultivated through consistency, consideration, and care. To this end, I am committed to community engagement and collaborative approaches to ensuring safety. And as I stated during my presentation and in numerous and varied forums since I began, I believe an essential strategy to further this particular vision is to establish a formal community advisory committee.
In these first few months as chief, through conversations both within the department and with several campus partners/stakeholders, I have developed a process framework to move this effort forward. It consists of three phases: information gathering, planning, and implementation. While I am fully committed to creating a community advisory committee, I understand that a thoughtful and collaborative approach will best ensure its effectiveness and sustainability — and as such will take time.
Currently, in this first phase, I am researching existing models for campus community advisory committees, meeting with various campus partners to gather information and insight, and working with these same partners to identify individuals representing a cross-section of campus and larger community stakeholders to participate in the planning phase. Next, during the planning phase, the identified stakeholders will provide input for the development of advisory committee expectations, goals, objectives, membership, and other operational details. Finally, the implementation phase will put in place community advisory committee members and establish mechanisms for ongoing assessment and communication regarding committee activity. It is my hope that by late fall, our first community advisory committee to the UWPD will officially convene.
Given that this endeavor is a work in progress, and I can’t foresee all possible bumps in the road ahead or predict the ways in which collaborative input will shape the process, the framework I’ve proposed here is certainly subject to change. As process adjustments are necessarily made, I will provide updates — so stay tuned for progress reports in the coming months. I am excited about the opportunity to work together toward what I believe is not my vision alone, but a shared vision. One that seeks to cultivate trust, foster improved police-community relationships, and to further promote campus safety through meaningful engagement and community input.
A Difficult “Peace”
March 16, 2017
This is a difficult piece to write. It’s difficult because in response to concerns and criticisms I have received following a recent Crime Warning my department issued — this written offering attempts to explain our process in the interest of providing clarity and creating understanding without communicating a defensiveness that I do not feel or intend to convey. It’s difficult because it is written with the hope and desire to invite conversation not impede it, yet I know that in our current climate even in the face of invited questioning and justified demands for assurances of accountability, my words – no matter how well-intended – will not meet with everyone’s approval. But most of all, this is a difficult piece to write because the concerns that have been raised about the Crime Warning are legitimate and serve as a painful but valuable reminder of the ways in which police have historically failed and in some ways continue to fail our communities of color.
For those of you who may not know, three weeks ago the UWPD issued a Crime Warning to alert our campus community of two African American burglary suspects at large. Crime Warnings are required under the Clery Act and in the past two years, the UWPD has issued 25 such timely alerts. Several things were unique about the Crime Warning sent on February 27, but what caught many people’s attention, was that this warning included photographs of the suspects. Because Crime Warnings are sent very closely following a particular crime to quickly alert our community of an existing or ongoing safety threat, it isn’t often that we have a lot of detailed information at the time of the release. Detailed suspect descriptions for these warnings are rare, and photos are even rarer. So rare, in fact, that since 2015 there has only been one other incident for which we had photos available. In that case, the decision was made, as is allowable within federal law, not to include the suspect photo in the warning because doing so would’ve compromised the pending law enforcement investigation. The inclusion of suspect photos in this case has raised concern among many who point to questions of overt or implicit bias in the decision, as well as questions about our level of awareness and sensitivity to the social backdrop against which this warning was issued – a backdrop in which Black lives are increasingly the target of hate attacks and threats of violence.
I understand that sending these campus-wide alerts can create damaging unintended consequences for our communities of color, particularly African American men. The UWPD is sensitive to this potential impact and whenever a Crime Warning is sent, we endeavor to balance our duty to protect members of our community from potential crime victimization, with our desire not to unduly reinforce or perpetuate negative stereotypes. I also understand that by including the suspect photos in the issuance of this particular warning, we simultaneously promoted the safety of our overall community while creating a potential safety concern for African American men in our community who are too often unfairly targeted/profiled as criminals. Therein lies the dilemma.
Many of our guiding principles when issuing a warning have been developed through an established Crime Warning Workgroup consisting of various campus administrators, and do include a consideration of the impact that issuing these warnings may have on our communities of color. For example, we will not include a suspect description if the only description we have is limited to race and sex. It is our belief that such a general description does little if anything to effectively warn and protect the community and could do more damage to our people of color in certain instances. This is a change we made in 2015 following community feedback and one that I think demonstrates our willingness to work to strike an appropriate balance.
As difficult as these conversations can be, I welcome opportunities to further review and respond to concerns about decisions made and actions taken, particularly when they call into question matters of consistency, fairness, and disparate impact. I have engaged in several conversations, both internally and externally, over the past few weeks. From these discussions, I have identified the following ways that we will work to improve our Crime Warning process:
- Ensure representation from a person(s) of color on the ad hoc Crime Warning Workgroup mentioned earlier who has demonstrated cultural competency and a capacity for critical thinking
- In addition to our existing practice of consultation with the Dean of Students, and University Communications, build into our process consultation with the Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer prior to the issuance of Crime Warnings that are likely to impact communities of color
- Review our guidelines for including photographs of suspects and communicate the process to our community
- Provide additional cultural competency training for UWPD managers
As Chief of this department, I am committed to engaging our community and entering into constructive conversations around complex issues such as these with an open mind and an open heart. I am willing to listen, to acknowledge when missteps occur and work to address them, and to facilitate a process of continuous feedback and improvement that is shaped by a responsiveness to community expectations. And while we won’t always agree on specific decisions made, I believe it is important to keep talking, learning, and working together to build trust and promote safety for all members of our community.
February 16, 2017
In this short Life
That only lasts an hour
How much – how little – is
Within our power
For the better part of my career, I’ve had a printed copy of this Emily Dickenson poem hanging in my office just above my desk. It has always served as a reminder to me that for as long as I am here, one of the few things over which I have control is how much I invest, how present I am, and how much I give – to whatever effort, challenge, or relationship is in front of me. To this end, those who know me well know that I don’t do things half-heartedly, I strive for continuous improvement, and I’m not one to give up without exhausting all possible options. This has been my approach to most things in my life, and stepping into this position as Chief of Police for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department is no exception.
My first month has flown by quickly. In my short time here I’ve sworn in 3 new officers and was officially sworn in myself. I’ve attended my first UWPD in-service training and this week I’m conducting my first round of officer candidate interviews. I’ve been meeting regularly now with a host of campus partners and have many more introductory meetings scheduled in the weeks ahead. At each turn, I’ve been received with warmth, support, and a genuine desire to constructively engage around issues that impact the quality of life, safety, and education on our campus. I recognize the tremendous opportunity I have to contribute to this community in leading the exceptional men and women of the UW-Madison Police Department. So with my first “Chief’s Corner” blog, I want to begin by sharing the framework out of which I lead, and my vision moving forward.
At our core, UWPD is committed to promoting and supporting the academic and research mission of the university. Our primary focus, of course, is safety — and to this end, we are proactive in our efforts to be leaders in innovative community-oriented policing. We value diversity and promote campus community wellbeing through collaborative approaches to ensuring safety. Our work and my vision for this department is grounded in the concept of “reaching higher”. This means that we are committed to a continuous process of assessment – of working toward that next level of service and to do this requires ongoing solicitation of feedback, engagement, and a responsiveness to the community we serve. It requires communication, consideration, collaboration, compromise, consistency, and creativity.
So how do we advance this vision? I believe we start by listening. Shortly after I took office, I began the process of establishing both external (community) and internal (department) advisory groups. I’ve met with students both through ASM and in smaller groups to hear directly from them about their concerns, expectations, and ideas. I’ve partnered with campus administrators, staff, and faculty to discuss such issues as campus carry, sexual assault, alcohol use/abuse, use of force, community control of police, protest guidelines that seek to facilitate free speech even when that speech is unpopular or even hateful, questions about immigration enforcement, and the fear that many students of color experience.
This blog – the first of many to follow – is just one way that I hope to improve communication, offer a level of transparency, create a mechanism for sharing insights and updates, and further cultivate trust and understanding. The issues before us present complicated challenges that aren’t easily resolved. But I am committed to the process, to engaging in community conversation and in doing what is “within our power” in the UWPD to work toward solutions.