Campus Safety Director Rick Tanksley describes his most important goal, other than the ongoing mission to support the safety of the Oxy community: to instill a culture of collaboration and trust with stakeholders across campus.
Since arriving at Oxy in 2018 as Director of Campus Safety, my most important goal, other than our ongoing mission to support the safety of the Oxy community, has been to instill a culture of collaboration and trust with stakeholders across campus. One of the ways to instill this culture is to communicate with students, staff and faculty to provide a candid picture of the various aspects of Oxy’s Campus Safety (CS) operation. This is even more important in times of the pandemic, since having fewer people on campus means that our staff has had less opportunity to interact with our most important stakeholders, and as a result, misperceptions of the role of CS may arise.
As I announced last June, I am working with the Campus Safety Advisory Committee (CSAC) and the Oxy community to change how CS operates and is perceived by the people it serves. CSAC generally meets on a monthly basis and at our next meeting will discuss plans to meet on a bi-weekly basis until the end of this academic year. To date, the Committee’s agenda items have included, adding additional student representation to the Committee, how to build better working relationships with the campus community as whole and with students in particular, and changing CS uniforms and titles.
As we conduct this necessary conversation about CS, I’ve also recognized through many conversations with CSAC, the Diversity and Equity Board (DEB), and several colleagues at the College, that there are some misconceptions about the department’s role and its functions—not surprisingly, since the department has historically modeled its structure and parts of its culture on traditional law enforcement. I’d like to try and address some of these misconceptions in an effort to provide a shared understanding of our current functions and a starting point for future discussions about CS at Oxy.
First and foremost, CS staff are not police officers. They do not carry weapons, and do not have legal police powers. They cannot arrest anyone—only detain them until sworn police officers arrive and make a determination as to whether to take someone into custody, which very rarely happens. One of the issues on our agenda is whether changing departmental titles and uniforms will help make this distinction between CS and sworn police clearer.
Campus Safety officers spend most of their time on service calls, rather than enforcement of College policy. For example, in 2018-19, the last full year in which we had all our students on campus, the department:
- Responds 24/7/365 to calls and requests. CS is the only function at the College that never closes.
- Conducted 4,089 vehicle and foot patrols
- Locked up 2,535 building doors after hours and on weekends
- Responded to 1,521 building unlock requests (often students, faculty and staff who forgot keys)
- Responded to 629 requests to meet with contractors, erect barricades, staff College events
- Responded to 609 requests for student assistance
- Provided 438 student safety escorts
- Responded to 427 requests for faculty and staff assistance
- Provided assistance to 66 visitors
- Responded to 62 fire alarms
On occasion, an emergency occurs on campus that requires a response from either LAPD or LAFD. In these instances, it is CS’s responsibility to meet responding units at a predetermined location and guide them to the location of the emergency as they are unfamiliar with where various buildings are, nor do they have access to any building on campus. Also, it is important in these situations that CS be present whenever LAPD or LAFD are on campus so as to provide support to students, both to those directly involved in the emergency, as well as students who are witnesses or indirectly involved.
The pandemic has created a demand for additional services. For example, CS now assists students who need to enter quarantine by meeting them at the quarantine location, providing them with their room key and bedding when needed, and escorting them to their room if they are unfamiliar with that particular residence hall. Further, for those situations, when Housekeeping staff are unavailable, CS staff deliver meals to students in quarantine.
Less visible is the training department staff regularly receive in in emergency first aid and CPR, the report writing and data collection that is necessary for Clery reporting and overall transparency, or the important work that is done on emergency preparedness. The Emergency Preparedness Committee, of which I am a co-chair, has completed the College’s first all-hazards risk assessment, identifying natural and/or man-made threats to the campus and then preparing contingency plans for each. In addition, the Committee created and began to deliver an active assailant protocol last year, which will be rolled out when we return more fully to campus.
Also, through the Division of Student Affairs, CS staff have participated in equity and justice training which included topics such as Exploring Bias; Stories and Personal Narratives and Diversity Training; Protecting Trans Lives in Los Angeles; and Anti-Blackness.
CS is also a critical component in overall threat assessment and risk management at Oxy. Our partnerships with Student Affairs and Human Resources enhance our ability to identify persons or situations that present concerning or threatening behavior, assess their risk for engaging in harmful activities, and develop strategies to safely manage that risk.
I am a firm believer that no matter the organization there is always room for improvement and greater transparency. I also believe that a complete picture of what Campus Safety does every day will help inform our conversation about needed change.
Rick C. Tanksley
Director of Campus Safety