As a private citizen I was horrified and then outraged at the homicide of George Floyd. As a policing scholar, I was disgusted. What we saw in Minneapolis wasn't policing. It was an act of physical domination that resulted in the slow death of an innocent person while several officers stood by and watched it happen.
I have spent most of my professional career trying to understand how police "fit" into vulnerable urban communities by studying police misconduct, police legitimacy, over-policing, and policing as a social determinant of health. Moreover, since George Floyd, I have published two op-ed essays (one in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the other in The Hill), proposing different pathways to achieving police reform. But "dismantling" the Drexel University Police Department (DUPD), as some have demanded, would not be one of those recommended pathways.
With upwards of 9,800 employees -- including over 1,000 full-time faculty members -- and a residential population of 4,300 (in non-COVID-19 times) -- Drexel University resembles a mid-sized American city. And like all mid-sized American cities, Drexel requires policing services -- whether to arbitrate public disputes, investigate campus thefts, intervene in incidents of dating violence and/or sexual assault, conduct health/welfare checks, or respond to the very rare shooting on campus. In short, the DUPD handles the very types of crimes and emergencies as police departments in mid-sized cities, along with many events specific to campus policing. The difference, though, is that DUPD is our police. And as our police, they can become our partners in fostering public safety in ways that reflect the values of Drexel University. If, for example, the Drexel community doesn't want its police force on 52nd Street during a public protest, then we need to tell them that. But in fairness to DUPD, its officers were backing up the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) as part of their mutual aid agreement and likely had no reason to believe that such a deployment would upset its relationship with some members of our community. Universities are a model for the way the world should be, not a model for the way the world is; and our police force should help to advance that role. Reviewing, reorienting, perhaps even re-imagining, policing on campus may be called for. But dismantling the DUPD?
Let's consider what that might look like.
As part of dissolving the DUPD, Drexel would likely have to contract out to the PPD for its policing services. That is, given Drexel's size and complexity, the PPD likely would argue that neither the 16th District nor the larger department itself has the resources to provide full coverage for Drexel. This would mean paying the Philadelphia Police Department to be Drexel's primary police force, a common arrangement around the country in smaller jurisdictions residing in larger metropolitan areas. And given that the PPD's 16th District is located up at Lancaster and Spring Garden -- and given the size of Drexel's residential population -- there's every possibility that it would want to establish a substation on Drexel's campus (likely in the current DUPD station) as part of its contract. And the PPD would likely want to charge Drexel a fee to maintain its fleet of patrol vehicles. Drexel would still have to pay for policing, but it would get a police department it no longer controls.
And as for cutting ties with the Philadelphia Police Department, and then terminating, or refusing to enter into, any contracts with the PPD, I have heard not a single argument or alternative that makes this a remotely possible scenario. Without DUPD, Drexel would need the PPD. And this would be a detrimental arrangement. The PPD would be largely unaccountable to the Drexel community; and it would treat virtually every encounter between its officers and members of our community as a law enforcement encounter because that's what municipal police departments do.
So why not work with the police we have to make sure they respond to our ideas of what good policing at Drexel can look like? Why not partner with DUPD to create a model of values-based, or sustainable, policing that could become a national example of excellence? Not just for campus police forces, but for policing across the country. As department head, faculty member, and researcher, I have worked with the DUPD on several initiatives, including (with one of my colleagues) offering perhaps the only university policing class in the U.S. that partners with its campus police department to offer students simulated field encounters designed to give them some idea of what it's like to face the challenges of the job. The DUPD has eagerly worked with my department to deliver this annual class; and they do so because they want to be active, contributing members of our community. If we want something from the DUPD, let's just ask them for it.
As one step in the direction of establishing a real partnership with the DUPD, I propose creating something akin to a citizen review board made up of members of the Drexel community who represent the many roles and responsibilities that people fill on campus. Modeling other citizen review boards, a Drexel Police-Community Advisory Board would provide feedback on police actions and deployments, advice on policies and practices, and it could even have some policy review and oversight authority. Most importantly, such an advisory board would create a space where our police and community can meet on a systematic basis to confer over issues of good policing, and the maintenance of sustainable police practices that reflect the values of both the university community and the police department itself -- because after all, we are one and the same.
Robert J. Kane is Professor and Head, Department of Criminology and Justice Studies at Drexel University, and the coauthor of Jammed Up: Bad Cops, Police Misconduct, and the New York City Police Department. His current book, Policing Beyond Coercion: The 'New' Idea for a 21st Century Mandate (Wolters Kluwer), is due out in early 2121. Follow on Twitter @rjohnkane