Located in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world, it’s no surprise that USC’s Department of Public Safety works closely with the Los Angeles Police Department to ensure the university’s safety.
“LAPD is not here dealing with the students smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol underage, but certainly anytime you’ve got arrests, we’re working together with them, and if there is any kind of investigation, we’re working together with them,” DPS Chief Carey Drayton said. “Because of this, the campus community and the citizens in this community are safer because there are more people working on the same issue — and that is safety in the community.”
Shaped and fostered by a series of Memorandums of Understanding between DPS and LAPD, the relationship between the two entities changed during preparation for the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles.
With several of the Olympics’ main venues located in and around USC, including housing for the Olympic athletes on campus and the use of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for events, the summer of 1984 was the turning point in which LAPD became more closely linked with DPS.
When Drayton joined DPS in 2005, he facilitated additional changes to the standing memorandum because the university had grown since the last time the memorandum was put together. Drayton adjusted boundaries for what areas of the USC campus and surrounding neighborhoods were public safety patrol areas, public safety response areas and LAPD reporting districts. Additionally, the position of LAPD senior lead officer was altered so that the individual’s sole jurisdiction is USC.
On a day-to-day basis, LAPD and DPS officers work together intricately, communicating on every hour of every watch.
“We’re working together closely and doing things every day, so when something major happens or if something occurs … I don’t have to call up some stranger,” Drayton said. “It’s somebody that we deal with on a fairly regular basis.”
In addition to communicating and sharing information, DPS and LAPD work hand-in-hand to assist each other in different areas. Through the current memorandum with LAPD, DPS officers have limited arrest powers, though anyone arrested by DPS must be delivered to a LAPD officer without unnecessary delay.
LAPD also helps DPS follow up on crimes reported to DPS. According to Sgt. Brent McGwyre of LAPD’s Southwest division — which presides over USC and the majority of the surrounding area — has officers and a detective assigned to the USC area.
In return, LAPD often calls DPS to handle crimes dealing with students which, as at any university campus, frequently involve students who have had too much to drink.
“In the field, oftentimes if we encounter a USC student, and we feel that it’s better recourse to have them handled via the school, then we can call DPS officers to come and deal with the student.
Typically this is with students that are drunk in public,” McGwyre said. “We as LAPD officers can arrest them for being drunk in public, but sometimes it’s in the best interest of all the parties involved that it’s handled administratively with USC.”
As the relationship between DPS and LAPD has steadily strengthened over recent years, crime statistics have shifted.
“Crime has significantly been dropping in and around the USC campus,” McGwyre said. “And some of that is because of the relationship that has developed between the two agencies.”
According to the 2010 DPS Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, the number of burglaries, robberies, motor vehicle thefts and aggravated assaults on campus are down from last year, though liquor and drug law referrals have skyrocketed — liquor referrals jumped from 29 in 2008 to 107 in 2009, and drug referrals from 47 in 2008 to 95 in 2009.
Off-campus, drug law referrals and burglaries have decreased significantly, while liquor law arrests have increased. The numbers of cases dealt with by LAPD has risen for most crimes.
For larger issues that arise, DPS operates using what it calls the Instant Command System. Although all USC cases start out being handled by DPS, the department that ends up in charge depends on the type of incident.
“On any major incident that happens, we start out with a single command, with us being in place, and then depending upon the situation, we develop a unified command system that would include LAPD, the Los Angeles Fire Department and others,” Drayton said. “As federal reports after 9/11 showed, it was the lack of inter-agency cooperation that caused some of the problems that were generated on the day of 9/11. Just like those kinds of relationships hurt, our relationship conversely helps.”
Freshman Ellen Kaster, an out-of-state student who said she isn’t very familiar with the area surrounding USC, said she was reassured to hear of the close relationship between DPS and LAPD when touring the school, especially after hearing negative stereotypes about the USC neighborhood.
“It’s comforting to know that the safety of our campus is reinforced by such a strong entity that is the LAPD,” said Kaster, a freshman majoring in public relations. “If there was a real problem, it’s good to know that DPS works so closely with the LAPD.”
Caitlin Dowling, a freshman majoring in communication, said she is also impressed with the strength of DPS and the LAPD, specifically their presence on campus.
“The other day I got an e-mail about someone’s personal property being recovered,” Dowling said. “That is amazing and a sign of the growth of our public safety department.”
Drayton anticipates that the relationship between DPS and LAPD will continue to strengthen in years to come, and both agencies will work to provide the other with what is needed to make the USC community safer. McGwyre agreed.
“Anytime DPS needs anything, if it’s in our power to do it, we’ll do it for them, and vice versa,” McGwyre said.