Former AG Releases Final Report on Syracuse University Police
The report, released by Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, outlines 23 recommendations for improving campus police.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch released her final report last week on a yearlong probe into the Syracuse University Department of Public Safety, concluding there is a “serious erosion of trust between DPS and the campus community.”
In Feb. 2020, Chancellor Kent Syverud announced Lynch, who was the AG under President Barack Obama and now serves as a partner at a N.Y. law firm, had been hired to lead an investigation into the department’s response to a series of on-campus racist incidents and subsequent protests and sit-ins.
Three months prior, in Nov. 2019, at least a dozen racist and anti-Semitic incidents were reported in less than two weeks, including racist graffiti against Asian people, swastikas drawn in snowbanks and dormitories, the yelling of racial slurs at African American people, and the N-word written in several bathrooms.
In response, Syracuse students organized sit-ins and protests, demanding stronger diversity programming. In one sit-in, #NotAgainSU, which describes itself as a Black student-led movement, took over Crouse-Hinds Hall, calling on administrators to resign and adding to a list of demands.
The group has since criticized campus police for how the sit-in was handled, claiming students were mistreated and police responded with disproportionate force. They also claimed students were deprived of food by the administration and campus police.
In the nearly 100-page report, Lynch and her investigators assessed major bias incidents and the university’s responses to them in the 2019-2020 academic year. She told The Daily Orange that she and her team spoke to students, DPS officers and university administrators and examined more than 20,000 documents in their review.
Overall, it found a common theme of community members distrusting DPS and subsequently inflaming already heightened tensions.
“DPS leadership should encourage responses from officers that are more empathetic when they are responding to all calls — even more so in the context of bias-related incidents or other instances where students feel threatened or unsafe,” Lynch wrote.
The report outlines 23 recommendations for improving the department, including streamlining how campus safety shares information with the community, better adherence to its standard operating procedures for bias-related incidents, and strengthening its community policing efforts, according to CNN.
In regards to the Crouse-Hinds Hall sit-in, Lynch determined her investigators “cannot conclude that the students were deprived of food by the administration or by DPS” since the administration reportedly provided food for protesters within 26 hours and allowed other community members to provide food within 48 hours.
Protesters had also alleged an officer grabbed his gun to intimidate the crowd during the sit-in. Investigators concluded the officer was trying to secure his holster.
“The deployment of DPS to the student protest at Crouse-Hinds Hall meant that DPS acted as the face of the response to the protest,” reads the report. “It also greatly exacerbated students’ preexisting lack of trust in and sense of connection with DPS itself, which stemmed in large part from an accumulation of concerns with DPS around transparency and accountability.”
Additional recommendations from the report include:
- DPS website should be updated to clarify how to file a complaint against DPS
- The establishment of a citizen review board to field complaints against the department
- The university should develop a well-defined protocol for how it responds to student protests
- DPS should stop sending officers in plain clothes to protests or other events
- DPS officers should wear “soft” uniforms — or less formal attire that still identifies them as officers — to de-escalate tense situations
- The department should provide information on the jurisdiction of DPS and the Syracuse Police Department, particularly for those who live off-campus
- DPS should periodically review officers’ body camera footage to ensure they are empathetic in their interactions with students
- DPS should make changes to its training academy to specifically train new officers on community policing and problem-solving
- DPS should stop operating the campus safety escort service as it has been the source of many negative interactions between officers and students
Syverud said he accepts the report’s findings and will share the school’s specific response to those findings in the coming days.