In check-in, DPS leader talks old and new priorities, work ahead

Lauretta Hill hopes to partner with Student Life and advocate for student mental health.

Lauretta Hill said that, until Community Advisory Board recommendations are implemented, doing so will remain her “mandate.” (Simon Park / Daily Trojan)

Soon after Lauretta Hill assumed the position of Assistant Vice President/Chief of the Department Public Safety, the Daily Trojan interviewed her to discuss her priorities and goals for campus safety. Seven months later, some of the same questions remain. 

In the first interview Feb. 14, Hill discussed actions she would take in her first 90 days on the job and how she saw DPS evolving in her first year with the department. She said she’d focus on including new protocols to avoid over-policing, creating transparency with students, implementing more Community Advisory Board recommendations and mandating officers to record all officer-initiated stops. 

CAB, a group formed after the reckoning over police overstepping and integrity during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, compiled a series of recommendations after holding extensive interviews with more than 700 people about various safety concerns and initiatives.

Requiring officers to log all officer initiated stops, outreach programs, and overall interaction with students are among the recommendations CAB put forth in its 80-page report. The recommendations, along with the ONE USC Safety Vision, set out to be a guiding light for DPS to foster trust between the department, USC stakeholders, students and the surrounding communities in South Los Angeles. Fulfilling those recommendations was one of Hill’s top priorities when she stepped into her role. 

The Daily Trojan met with Hill again Aug. 31 to discuss the first seven months of her tenure as DPS chief, her goals for the upcoming school year and her plans for building a community within USC and surrounding areas. In that talk, Hill said that, until CAB recommendations are implemented, doing so will remain her “mandate.”

As of right now Chief Hill has not given a timeline on when the recommendations for requiring officers to log officer-initiated stops and outreach programs will be done. 

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Daily Trojan: What has been the hardest part of your first year as a new DPS leader and what do you wish you had done differently? 

Lauretta Hill: The hardest part has nothing to do with USC. It’s the traffic in [Los Angeles]. That’s been the most difficult thing: planning when to get in, when to get out. 

I’ve been truly, truly lucky to be embraced by a community with so many resources. So, when I have an obstacle, there is always somebody there and another unit. 

I haven’t had those moments where I’d look back and say, “Is this the right decision?” Everybody has to this day been extremely helpful to me, and I don’t see a change.  

DT: Do you feel that your priorities or goals have changed for your role after your first year? 

LH: No. I feel like CAB, our Community Advisory Board, was my mandate when I got here and I still feel like it is until those [recommendations] are all implemented. That was a huge undertaking for the time — I kept getting together, listening to faculty, the staff, the students, so there was a lot of energy and work that went into those recommendations. 

In addition to CAB, I make sure that I’m available to students. I talked to a whole bunch of parents during Orientation week. I even gave them my cell number. I wanted them to be assured that the safety and security of their students that they dropped off to us was just as important to me as it is to them. 

DT: What goals do you have for the upcoming year or years? 

LH: Continue to be a resource for the other departments that are here. Continue to partner with student life concerns. We want to continue to engage and listen to them, so I can create an environment where they’re comfortable coming to us.

DT: Do you have plans to require officers to log all officer-initiated stops? 

LH: Yes, that’s one of the best recommendations and we are still working on that particular recommendation. As we finish those recommendations that are published on our site, we will post that update and I think it’s very important that we’re transparent. 

DT: Are there any specific community outreach programs or initiatives that you’re hoping to lead to make sure there’s knowledge and trust in the community? 

LH: Yeah, [Robert] Hernandez in social work, he’s part of the CAB, he’s working along with me to come up with different plans for ways to further to engage our non USC community on how we respond, how we can potentially do some intervention with our young people in the neighborhoods that may be a response from an intervention as opposed to a DPS person or it may be a joint response. Kind of how we did the [Mental Health Assistance & Response Team] program, where it’s a mental health counselor from USC and DPS trained crisis intervention officer. 

We’re hoping we can roll [these changes] out and that [they] help us with our engagement in the community and for our young folks to understand that we want to be there as a support for them. 

DT: How do you see DPS’ role in interacting with the University Park community outside of USC’s gates? Will DPS work to ensure the surrounding area does not suffer from over-policing and patrolling, and that community members trust DPS officers? How has building relationships with your community changed over the course of your first year? 

LH: We have a lot of students that are off-campus, so we’re serving our students in their community but we’re also serving the community. I attend meetings with the community council people that have districts here, to understand what the needs are in our greater community. 

I think it’s really important that USC sees interaction with the community, not just DPS, but all our tentacles in the community, from student life, through sports, through health sciences, all those parts are reaching out into this community.

Trust is something that you build and that you earn from people.

I have seen a wonderful relationship, but I realized that sometimes it takes only one event to change that relationship. We want to be there when they need us, but not to be there as an overbearing force. 

We want them to have the feeling of safety by our LiveSafe app. It gives you safety updates. It can immediately call 911, emergency alerts. You can also utilize our walk feature. If you hit the LiveSafe app and say ‘Hey, I want someone to assist me on a virtual walk,’ what we’ll do is we geolocate, with your permission, where you are and we utilize our camera system to virtually help you walk home and when you’re there we disconnect.

If we have units available, we will physically come and assist and walk you home.

I’m being very optimistic because I feel the energy here. I think we’re gonna have a wonderful relationship. I think it’s going to continue to grow, to strengthen, as I make myself available, as others within DPS make themselves available. I believe in accountability and transparency; I believe that builds trust in people.

I’m looking forward to being a part of this, continuing to be a part of this organization and pushing it forward where the community and DPS are joined. There’s a USC community that we’re all a part of, and it’s not seen as a separate entity. We’re all collectively one USC, one USC safety vision.


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