A new group should be up and running by this fall to improve communication between students and Pitt administrators regarding public safety concerns.
The new organization, the Committee on Student-focused Public Safety Concerns, was discussed April 15 at a virtual town hall meeting whose participants included Pitt Police Chief James Loftus; Professor of Law David Harris, who also chairs the Chancellor’s Public Safety Advisory Council; Pitt Police Sergeant Brooke Riley, Officer Guy Johnson; and three students.
Harris said the new group, which is still coming together, is designed to represent populations who feel they may have been ignored by policing. Representatives who are Black, Latinx, Jewish, Asian, queer and those with disabilities will be nominated to serve on the panel.
“It will be a clearinghouse to move student concerns to the highest level,” said Harris, who expects to group to be functioning by the fall 2021 term.
Harris said the council was also discussing a concept called community-based public safety.
It gives public safety a broader meaning—“not just the absence of violence or the presence of police protection, but overall community wellness,” he said. He adds that the Pitt community, with its counseling center and sexual assault awareness programs, is a good environment for this concept.
Regarding the funding of the Pitt Police, Loftus mentioned the department this fiscal year is operating with a 13% reduction in funds. Some money that had paid personnel has been shifted into training. The chief said reallocating funds has to be done objectively and empirically. Whether it’s shifting funds to the counseling center, for example, or to pay for mental health counselors to accompany police on some calls, Loftus says it should be a “scientific, mathematical process.”
Other Pitt Police efforts made during the pandemic included talks with resident assistants about pedestrian safety, talks with Asian student groups about anti-Asian hate and reaching out to the owners of Asian restaurants with resources and support.
There also have been a number of initiatives that were in direct response to concerns by either students or the community. They include regularly scheduled meetings with students publishing Pitt Police disciplinary and policy information online and more frequent town hall meetings.
In addition, the Pitt Police have joined a program that will better able them to police one another. Through Georgetown University’s Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement (ABLE) program, a police culture is created in which officers routinely intervene to prevent misconduct, avoid police mistakes and promote general police health and wellness.