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Emory Police Department implements changes to increase community engagement

The Emory Police Department (EPD) is implementing changes to increase engagement with community members, provide easier access to more comprehensive data, update use-of-force policies and augment mandatory training to provide a more just and equitable policing approach.

These actions represent initial steps in response to an ongoing review by the university and EPD of the role of policing on campus and all aspects of the department’s operations. The review is in part the result of community questions and concerns surrounding policing and racial justice following numerous shooting deaths of Black people nationwide by police officers.

The EPD initiative is a component of Emory-wide actions to address racial and social issues led by President Gregory L. Fenves.

EPD’s goal is to conduct fair and impartial policing and to remain transparent in all areas of operation, according to Chief Rus Drew.

“This is a time for historic change, which is why EPD and Emory are asking the critical question of what role policing should have on our campus today to meet our public safety needs,” Drew says. “EPD’s role is to develop and maintain a relationship and partnership between the police and all members of our community so they feel confident law enforcement services will be provided in a trustworthy manner, without bias.”

Since June Emory and EPD have been working with Justice & Sustainability Associates (JSA), who have engaged university and community stakeholders through one-on-one interviews and multilateral conversations with regards to creating and sustaining a safe and equitable Emory campus.

JSA has completed a comprehensive review of EPD policies and operations that includes benchmarking the department with other major university police and public safety departments. EPD has begun to implement JSA recommendations regarding the department’s mission, data transparency, community engagement, use-of-force policies and mandatory annual training.

While EPD already strives to follow best practices, the department updated its use of force policies in June to better align with the eight policies identified by President Obama’s Task Force on Justice in the 21st Century Policing Commission. Among the revisions:

  • Choke holds are prohibited.
  • Officers are expected and trained to intervene if a fellow officer is using excessive force.
  • When safe and practical to do so, officers will give verbal commands before using force.
  • Officers are required to report each time they use force on individuals.

EPD also continues to augment its annual mandatory training program to ensure officers are trained on fair and impartial policing. The lesson plans will use the Georgia Public Safety Training Center’s template and other expert resources to cover multiple topics including mental and emotional wellness, bias-based policing and serving Georgia’s diverse communities, Drew said.

In response to concerns about data transparency, EPD is developing a dashboard to publish reports analyzing complaints, demographics of those involved, the status and findings of investigations and actions taken as a result. While some of this data is already available, Drew acknowledged the information is not as accessible as necessary. Dashboard data will include the race and gender of the alleged offender and note whether incidents involved students, faculty, staff, patients or those not affiliated with Emory.

Based on JSA’s recommendations, EPD is taking several steps to dialogue with Emory stakeholders to identify issues of criticality and create a shared definition of safety that includes accountability, represents the values and interests of EPD and university stakeholders, and honors the influence of all community members. 

Emory will form advisory groups comprising administrators, students, faculty and staff to work with EPD to develop guiding principles and hold conversations about the department’s mission, policies and procedures. Drew expects these groups will address several topics including communications, data and metrics, and organizational structure.

The university also will re-establish the EPD Community Engagement Council to increase collaboration regarding issues related to community safety on campus and in surrounding neighborhoods. The council will include students, faculty, staff and members of the external community.

Christopher L. Augostini, executive vice president for Business and Administration, says, “I am proud of the role Chief Drew and EPD have played in providing for the university’s public safety.  We are actively exploring our policies and how principles related to diversity and inclusion contribute to all interactions with community members. We look forward to sharing more information about the police force, their responsibilities and their work to carry out Emory’s mission.” EPD is based in Campus Services, which is part of the Business and Administration organization.

Drew notes that “these changes are the first-steps in what will be a long-term process to bring effective change in policing to Emory.  Our goal is to earn and maintain the trust of all members of the Emory community because only then can we fulfill our sworn duty to serve and protect and allow everyone to feel safe, valued and respected.”

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