Last week, Brown University announced that since October 2015, their Department of Public Safety has excluded race and ethnicity from crime reports, following the footsteps of other colleges such as University of Maryland and University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
According to Brown DPS Chief of Police Mark Porter and Deputy Chief of Police Paul Shanley, the department includes race-based classifications only when it “adds value as part of a complete and thorough description.” Otherwise, the mention of race in reports may lead to enforcement decisions based on stereotypes and confusion.
The measure adopted by Brown and other institutions moves toward greater campus inclusion and recognition that even college campuses are not devoid of brutality and racial profiling. In light of the current social climate, USC’s DPS should eliminate descriptions of race from crime reports, using universities which have embraced this concept as templates.
A quick glance at the catalogue of USC crime alerts reveals just how many suspect descriptions rest upon racial background. Nearly all reported offenses include the race of the suspect, among other characteristics reported by the victim, including suspect height, weight, build, gender, etc. The mention of race in USC reports, however, can be troubling, since it has conjured prejudicial actions in the past at other universities.
Time and time again, incidents on college campuses across the United States have proven the disturbing repercussions of including race in crime reports. In January 2015 at Yale, Tahj Blow, a student at the university, was forced to the ground at gunpoint because he fit the description of “tall, African-American, college-aged student wearing a black jacket and a red and white hat.” At the University of Minnesota, in 2013, campus police released the portrait of an armed suspect. Later, police said the man was not involved.
The difference, however, is that the University of Minnesota acted. Black students shared that people often looked at them suspiciously when a descriptor such as “black male suspect” was released, even though the criminal more often than not turned out to be someone unaffiliated with the university. Citing “the reinforcement of racist stereotypes of black men, and other people of color” and the creation of “a climate of suspicion and hostility,” the university administration eliminated suspect race in crime reports.
However, Brown DPS does make note of the suspect’s race internally, leading critics to question the effectiveness of the change, since it is police profiling that results in more deadly consequences. Nevertheless, the absence of race in crime reports does combat unreliable eyewitness accounts.
This development backs countless studies conducted on suspect reporting. Under intense stress, victims tend to misidentify the race of the criminal, a phenomenon otherwise known as the same race effect. Research also shows that memory can be wary after a crime, as the heightened fear interferes with assessment ability. DPS officers rely on students as their eyes and ears, but these eyewitness accounts are often unreliable. Thus, USC DPS must reevaluate the content of their crime report criterion.
Ultimately, racial bias is not unique to our campus or campuses throughout the nation. But we have to start somewhere to correct false assumptions that too often lead to unjust, sometimes violent endings. That onus is on our DPS to respect USC’s diversity.
Daily Trojan Fall 2016 Editorial Board