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How do you police in a post-George Floyd world? Campus safety at the U is still working on that

University of Utah, post-George Floyd policing panel, Feb. 8, 02
Kristine Weller
From left to right, Tracie Keesee, Muskan Walia, Jason Hinojosa, Nahum Tadesse, Keith Embray and Keith Squires. Keesee, the president of the Center for Policing Equity, moderated the Feb. 8 panel.

The University of Utah hosted a panel discussion to talk about policing in the post-George Floyd era and ways to keep students safe — both on and off campus.

The event is part of a larger effort implemented by Chief Safety Officer Keith Squires to help students, staff and the public feel safe while at the university.

Nationwide protests erupted after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020. There was a push for change in Utah and the interim chief of police at the university, Jason Hinojosa, said some progress has been made since then with legislation.

But police violence is still a national problem. Tyre Nichols was killed by Memphis police in a similar way to Floyd. Hinojosa said there are four things police departments still struggle with: failure to train, failure to supervise, failure to hold officers accountable and negligent hiring and retention. He said systems need to be in place to prevent these things.

When thinking about what comes next, Muskan Walia, a student and University Department of Public Safety intern, brought up campus life. She said the U needs to build solidarity among marginalized communities.

“These communities are putting or placing harm on each other because there’s no foundation of solidarity.”

Multiple University of Utah students have died due to gun and partner violence over the last four years, including high-profile cases like Lauren McCluskey or Zhifan Dong. Students said there needs to be more intervention before tragedies like this happen.

Nahum Tadesse, a senior and campus presidential intern, said the university also needs to take responsibility for the violence that happens in sororities and fraternities.

“Especially with, like, violence that happens off campus, we see, you know, sexual assaults that are happening in Greek row, which technically isn’t campus,” he said.

One trend campus police officers have noticed is some students feel unsafe asking the U for help. Squires said early in his position he found out some members of the LGBTQ community felt unsafe but were afraid to contact the public safety department. Chief Hinojosa hopes they can build trust in the future.

“I’ve said this 100 times before, but it does genuinely break my heart that if somebody is subject to a crime of violence on campus, that they don’t report to us because they don’t trust us.”

Part of building trust involves authentic engagement. Hinojosa said he and other officers often just want to be genuine and apologize for mistakes, but pending litigation can get in the way of that.

While admitting fault immediately might not always be an option, the department is looking toward other options to keep students safer. Squires said they are currently working with a team at Huntsman Mental Health Institute to find a way for U police to step back if someone is having a mental health crisis and let someone on that team de-escalate the situation.

But, there are still other changes students want in the future. Walia would like to see more proactive rather than reactive policies. Tadesse said he wants students to be able to find a community, have fun and be safe during their time on campus.

“I think a success would be waking up and not having to see, you know, your classmate's name in the news.”

Kristine Weller is a newsroom intern at KUER. She’s only been a journalist for a year but is excited to see what the future holds.
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