Today’s Dear Colleague Letter from the U.S. Department of Education urges colleges and universities to seriously consider “community and police relations, racial justice, and officer and public safety.”

In the letter, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. incorporates into Department guidance the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, asking institutions of higher education adopt recommendations that apply to their campuses.

The task force report is broken down into six “pillars.” Their nuance is distilled and explored considerably in the report. To summarize, the pillars are

  1. Building trust and legitimacy: “Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian—rather than a warrior—mindset to build trust both within agencies and with the public,” emphasizing procedural justice and transparency, positive non-enforcement interaction, and diversity in workforces.
  2. Policy and oversight: Law enforcement should follow established, clear, and comprehensive policies, collaborating with community members to develop those policies and nurture cooperation.
  3. Technology and social media: Using defined policies and goals, law enforcement should evaluate and use technology to improve practices and engage communities.
  4. Community policing and crime reduction: Law enforcement and communities should collaborate to enhance public safety and apply multidisciplinary team approaches “for planning, implementing, and responding to” crises.

Educational settings: With regard to education settings specifically, “Law enforcement agencies should avoid using law enforcement tactics that unnecessarily stigmatize youth and marginalize their participation in schools (where law enforcement officers should have limited involvement in discipline) and communities.”

Youth involvement: Communities should affirm the voices of youth in decision making, encourage youth involvement in problem solving, and develop youth leadership.

  1. Training and education: To ensure effective training of law enforcement, law enforcement agencies should engage community members in training and provide leadership training to all personnel.
  2. Officer wellness and safety: Law enforcement agencies should promote wellness and safety at every level of their organizations.

Secretary King’s letter also invokes institutions’ compliance obligations related to policing and safety, citing the recently updated Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting, as well as federal civil rights nondiscrimination obligations concerning race, color, national origin, sex, and disability. Finally, the letter reminds us that campuses can provide a “safe and open place for dialogue” on these issues.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services released a corresponding Dear Colleague Letter yesterday. It and the U.S. Department of Education’s press release regarding the two letters include additional information and resources for improving campus policing.

What this means for you

The Dear Colleague Letters present an opportunity for colleges and universities to work with their campus law enforcement, review the task force report and resources, and incorporate relevant guidance. Consider ways in which your community may become more involved in campus policing and safety, emphasize officer training and planning, and encourage productive discussion to build on the strength and safety of your students, employees, and communities as a whole.