Updated April 28, 1:11 a.m.
Columbia Public Safety announced a host of changes to operations, which include increasing foot patrols, providing sensitivity training, and implementing a new text messaging system.
The changes, announced Sunday evening, are in response to the March release of data from the University Senate’s quality of life survey.
The USenate’s Student Affairs Committee, which conducted the survey, said at the time that escort and shuttle services were important aspects of student satisfaction, and trans and Asian students reported lower-than-average satisfaction when interacting with Public Safety officers.
In response, Public Safety will focus nighttime patrols on the Morningside Heights campus towards the northern area of the campus, provide reflective vests for officers to improve their visibility, and implement motorized patrols along Amsterdam Avenue. On the Columbia University Medical Center campus, Public Safety will improve security visibility by using vehicles’ flashing lights when escorting students, deploying officers on bicycles, increasing foot patrols during the times around shift changes, and providing reflective vests.
Public Safety officers will also undergo annual communications and professionalism training and engage in field training exercises. The department will work with GendeRevolution to implement trans sensitivity training for personnel.
“Public Safety has really been great about reaching out and saying, ‘Before we really look into trans identity training of our own, do you have any resources we could reach out to,’ and we connected them with GendeRevolution as a possible first step,” University Senator Jared Odessky, CC ’15, said.
GendeRevolution co-coordinator Caleb LoSchiavo, BC ’15, hopes the training will include the voices of trans people and that the change indicates the University is focusing more on addressing trans students’ concerns.
“Trans people, especially transfeminine people and trans people of color, and especially people at the intersection of those identities, are disproportionately policed due to their genders,” LoSchiavo said in an email. “The people who are meant to be keeping us safe should not be the ones making us more unsafe, and I hope these reforms work to rectify that.”
“I think the most important thing here is that we’re starting a dialogue between the students and public safety,” LoSchiavo said. “I can’t say now what the problems and their resolutions will look like, but the first step is to start talking about them, and I’m really glad that we’ll be sitting down to do that.”
Columbia Queer Alliance President Caitlin Lowell, CC ’15, said she’s looking forward to see what comes out of the new training program. “I think it’s something that’s very important and something that has been needed for a long time in order to make sure the campus is safe for trans and gender-nonconforming students,” she said. “I’m excited that they’re going to be including members of GenderRev in that conversation, and especially because they’ll be discussing the treatment of trans students and gender-nonconforming people of color.”
The senate press release also said that a “new, more versatile communications system has been identified” and will be implemented by the start of the fall semester. Current emergency text messages are often delayed—when the New York Police Department cleared a section of Broadway in April 2013 following a suspicious package at the 116th Street subway station, Barnard students received a text message notification about the shutdown eight minutes after police declared all clear, while Columbia students did not receive any notification.
Public Safety also plans to improve how information about shuttle services is provided. The department is redesigning the shuttle website, providing service maps and schedules at the College Walk security booths, and designing a new handout that will help “publicize the shuttle service more broadly.”
SAC co-chairs Matthew Chow, CC ’14, and Akshay Shah, SEAS ’14, said they were happy that Public Safety took action so quickly following the release of the survey recommendations.
“We’re extremely excited that public safety has been so responsive in terms of taking our feedback, and the collective feedback of almost all the students in the University,” Shah said.
Elizabeth Sedran contributed reporting.