Amid concerns and claims of unprofessional police interactions in the past few years, students, faculty and law enforcement officers gathered at a Black Student Assembly meeting Monday evening to discuss police accountability and student rights.
Held in Grace Ford Salvatori Hall, more than 50 people attended and participated in the conversation.
The topic centered on educating students on how to interact with the police when they are stopped on and around campus.
“It’s critical and important to know what to do when you interact with law enforcement and go about effectively voicing your redress,” said Dept. of Public Safety Chief John Thomas.
Various law enforcement agencies, such as the Los Angeles Police Department, California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles County Sheriff, were represented at the meeting, which was co-sponsored by the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs and the USC Department of Public Safety.
When Chief Thomas asked if anyone in the room had ever been stopped by law enforcement, particularly by a member of LAPD, several students raised their hands.
Last May, 79 LAPD officers broke up a predominantly African-American student party which led students to claim racial profiling and use of excessive force. This resulted in students hosting forums and sit-ins during the last few weeks of the 2012-13 school year.
When explaining how to address being stopped by a member of law enforcement, the officers said that it is important to follow the instructions of the officer and then ask the necessary questions later.
In addition, all the officers stressed that one of the most important elements is keeping lines of communication open with the agencies.
“Don’t ever feel like you need to do something spectacular like write long letters and memos,” said Lt. Kerry Carter of the Los Angeles Sheriff Department. “All you really need to do is report it.”
All of the agencies said that they can be reached in person, by email, phone and even on Facebook. The panelists also told students that when they are in the process of reporting an officer, students should make it clear that they would like to formally file a complaint.
“As community members you have a lot of power — with great power comes great responsibility,” said Officer Dave Love of LAPD. “I encourage you to make the complaint when necessary. But I also encourage you to write a letter when an officer does something good.”
In addition, officers told students that they should be treated with professionalism in order to build better ties between residents and law enforcement.
“People are owed an explanation, but to some officers they feel that if telling you why it weakens the position,” said DPS Captain Ed Palmer, who formerly worked at LAPD for 28 years. “It doesn’t weaken the officer’s position, it actually strengthens community ties.”
Briana Savage, a sophomore majoring in international relations, found the panel particularly valuable because she was a student not familiar with the local law enforcement.
“This event was … educational,” said Briana Savage, who is originally from the East Coast. “I commend the panel for shedding light on the shortcomings within the various departments instead of masking the issues.”
Overall, officers stressed the importance of students’ voices, especially among students who have had negative experiences with law enforcement.
“Don’t think that your voice is not heard,” said Veta Fleeton of the California Highway Patrol. “Don’t just talk to someone about it. Talk to someone who can do something about it.”