A University of Kansas task force focused on campus policing practices released a preliminary report laying out reforms to the KU Public Safety Office, according to an email sent out to students, faculty and staff on Oct. 22.
The task force on community-responsive public safety recommended changes to three key areas of operations within the KU PSO: how officers respond to behavioral health emergencies, how the department handles complaints about officer misconduct and how the department is overseen by KU.
The task force recommended that KU changes who responds to calls for students experiencing mental health crises. Instead of KU PSO officers responding, the task force recommends KU PSO add several trained mental health professionals to KU’s first-response staff, who would respond to those calls instead.
“Nationwide, many members of the public and public health and safety officials increasingly favor replacing or supplementing the police response to people in mental health crises with behavioral mental health professionals,” the task force wrote in the report.
Additionally, the task force recommended “establishing a board of students, staff, and faculty to advise and oversee the KU Public Safety Office.” The board would have the authority to conduct hearings, receive information and request information.
The 43-page report specifically addressed the petition by the student group AbolitionKU, which called for KU to “immediately dismantle the police services and patrol division provided by the KU Public Safety Office and cease all policing activities on KU’s campus.”
“The Task Force shares the view that some activities now assigned to the police on the KU campus would be better done by other professionals,” according to the report. “The majority of the Task Force has concluded that public safety at KU is likely to be better ensured with continuation of the KU Public Safety Office.”
Azja Butler, a member of AbolitionKU and a member of the task force, spoke to Student Senate Wednesday night about the report and about the idea of police abolition.
“I think that a world without policing on KU means prioritizing preventative care, and what that means is just like understanding that we have to take steps as a community to try to keep each other safe,” Butler said to student senators. “At most, the only thing police and prisons can provide is reactive care.”
The task force on community-responsive public safety, chaired by distinguished professor Chuck Epp, was created by leaders at KU in August. It was tasked with reviewing KU PSO’s policies and procedures and submitting recommendations for change to Chancellor Douglas Girod.
The task force gave students, faculty, and staff the ability to provide feedback through an anonymous form before Nov. 2 at 12 p.m.
“We are publishing it to the KU community with the purpose of seeking comments on our preliminary recommendations,” task members wrote in the report. “We will consider these comments in the course of our final deliberations before issuing our final report.”
Earlier in the semester, the task force held a public listening session to gather feedback from members of the community.
A final report is expected to be delivered to Girod by early November, according to the preliminary findings.