UC Riverside police adding non-sworn employees to build bridges with community – San Bernardino Sun

When UC Riverside police officers respond to calls later this fall, they’ll have new co-workers in tow.

The UCR Police Department will add non-sworn, unarmed, safety responders and behavioral health specialists by the middle or end of fall quarter, school officials said.

In a move billed as the first of its kind in the 10-campus University of California, UCR police are bringing non-sworn employees onto the force, a UCR news release states. The so-called safety responders, who are trained in behavioral health, will assist officers when they encounter someone grappling with psychological issues. UCR officials hope their presence makes students more comfortable in reaching out for resources.

Denise Woods, UCR’s associate vice chancellor for health, well-being and safety, said the university also wanted its policing to be more inclusive and to repair relationships with students of color, especially Black students. To do so, it is recruiting an ethnically diverse team that also includes bilingual members.

The addition to police departments of non-sworn employees who can’t make arrests or enforce laws follows the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in May 2020, which started a social justice movement throughout the country. That led to calls for police reform, especially on college campuses.

The two other UC schools in Southern California also are working on changes to campus police departments.

At UC Irvine, non-sworn security and safety officers were added in 2017 to respond to calls of fire alarms, safety escorts and to handle foot patrols at the Medical Center, UCI Police Chief Elizabeth Griffin said. Police safety officers also wear polo shirts to distinguish them from police officers, a letter to the community states.

The new staffers replaced three sworn police officers. In total, the department added four police safety officers and a manager who oversees the police department to ensure procedures are followed, Griffin said.

At UCLA, spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said the university is working on plans for alternatives to sending police on “mental health calls.” There also are plans to add non-sworn officers to the police department, he said.

At UCR, along with its existing 29 officers, four non-sworn, unarmed officers and at least five other individuals will be hired for the new Students Well-being Intervention and Follow-up Team. Behavioral and mental health professionals, counselors and social workers also will be on the team.

“We’re really trying to create an ecosystem of support for our students, outside of just calling the police,” Woods said.

Though fall classes start Monday, Sept. 22, these changes will go into effect when all the positions have been filled. Students will start to see the new officers by the middle or end of the fall quarter.

Changes within the UCR Police Department will include other adjustments besides those involving personnel.

The four unarmed officers will don a “softer” uniform, wearing polo shirts — in contrast to the bulletproof and exterior vests police officers often wear — and respond to issues such as skateboarding, noise complaints and building checks.

The casual uniforms will also help students identify the non-sworn, unarmed responders.

“Rather than having the police response, we’ll have a team of professionals and counselors to respond first,” Interim UCR Police Chief Anthony Paul Frisbee said, “so we can provide mental health services outside of the police.”

Some faculty members don’t think the casual uniforms will make students comfortable.

Dylan Rodriguez, a UCR media and cultural studies professor, said such attire is “trying to magically erase the history of police violence” — the same police violence that killed Floyd and other unarmed Black, Latino and Indigenous people.

Other UCR safety programs will also see additions.

The Highlander Emergency Medical Services group, a student-run EMS organization on campus, will join the ambassador program as responders. The Highlander EMS will be first to respond to medical emergencies, rather than the police officers.

In addition to creating a safer, more inclusive campus, the new roles in the UCR Police Department also aim to match the right professional with a given situation, Frisbee said.

“There’s a lot you don’t need an armed police officer to respond to,” Frisbee said.

Police officers will work as backup for mental health professionals and counselors as officers take a step back from non-criminal emergencies.

Jim Bueermann, a retired Redlands police chief and founder of Future Policing Strategies, a police consulting firm, said the changes in UC Riverside’s police department makes sense.

Bueermann said similar services, which he called civilian employees, were added to the Redlands Police Department in the mid 1990s.

“Many of the things police officers are charged with today can be done by employees that are not sworn police officers,” he said, “Especially today, given a new policing system, it makes a lot of sense in the university setting.”

These changes were proposed by a task force of students and staff. However, some UCR students said they still have concerns.

Amina Hearns, vice president of external affairs and board chair of Associated Students of UCR, disagrees with the new approach.

“When it comes to campus climate and culture, the campus police are not wanted by the community,” she said.

Hearns and Brianna Simmons, an anthropology graduate student, said UCR police have harassed students — including themselves. Simmons said she dealt with UCR police when she became the victim of a crime and felt the department could have offered more support.

“The new infrastructure doesn’t change student’s comfortability with the police department,” she said.

Hearns said: “They’re supposed to be a student resource, but they’re not being one.”

Hearns would have liked to see more resources put into expanding mental health assistance at the counseling and psychological center on campus.

Woods said abolishing the campus police force is not an option. It’s a part of a UC system-wide contract, and would have to be done at all UC campuses, Woods said.

“There’s a fraction of the campus community that will never be comfortable with campus police,” Woods said, “On the flip side, we have a fraction of the campus that want more officers.”

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