In response to the summer 2020 surge in Black Lives Matter protests, Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger created the Campus Citizen Review Board (CCRB) to evaluate allegations of misconduct against the Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD). Over a year later, the CCRB released its first report, confirming allegations of racial bias in campus policing.
At its creation, Stenger tasked the CCRB, composed of 10 BU students, faculty, staff and a retired police chief, with generating an evidence-based report that examines UPD’s relationship with the campus community. The board addressed different concerns with six working groups: Campus Community Policing Philosophy/Implementation and Review of Complaints, Community Engagement and Outreach, Mental Health, Selection and Training of Campus UPD, Policies and Procedure and Arrest Records.
The report highlights several findings. These include low levels of diversity among UPD officers, a lack of de-escalation training within the force, a need for more nonpolice mental health services on evenings and weekends, limited transparency and a lack of accountability mechanisms for problematic behavior.
The final and longest section of the report, “Arrest Records,” focuses on historical, statistical and anecdotal evidence of sexist, ableist, homophobic and racist policing in both UPD and nationwide. Specifically, the section highlights that in 2018 and 2019, UPD arrested Black individuals 1.7 times more than white individuals, with four officers responsible for 57.8 percent of arrests of Black students.
Sachely Urena, a junior majoring in sociology and human development, said the findings of racial bias in UPD echo her lived experience. Urena said she was walking from one residential community to another at night when a UPD officer stopped her. The officer proceeded to reprimand Urena for wearing all black and crossing the street. As Urena stood in shock, the officer threatened to report her for jaywalking.
“I believe that if [a white individual] would have been stopped in the same situation, it wouldn’t have been the same interaction,” Urena said. “It would have probably been like, ‘Make sure you look both ways before crossing the street.’”
The UPD website maintains that campus police are friendly and approachable, attend training on fair and impartial policing and that their interactions with community members result in collaboration and problem-solving.
In addition to its findings, the CCRB made several recommendations for improving campus policing. These varied in severity, from UPD issuing a statement of anti-racism and hiring more women as officers to reducing the number of UPD officers and limiting police interaction with students to law-enforcement-only situations.
In a Sept. 3 thank-you letter to the CCRB, President Stenger announced that an Implementation Group, made up of several BU administrative staff, will review the report and determine how best to enact the recommendations. He directed the group to focus on seven areas of interest, including increasing diversity among UPD, assessing de-escalation and anti-bias training for officers, equipping officers with body cameras and publicizing the CCRB’s findings and the administration’s reform efforts.
For some, President Stenger’s statement came as a disappointment. One CCRB board member, Tina Chronopoulos, an associate professor of Middle Eastern and ancient Mediterranean studies and member of Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier (JUST), believes his focus areas do not reflect the CCRB’s most pressing concerns.
“Most of the areas they are going to focus on have to do with ‘soft reforms,’ such as tinkering with training, recruiting and PR,” Chronopolous wrote in an email. “There is nothing here to show me that the administration is willing to even think about what a truly safe campus for everyone (aka not just white people) actually looks like.”
Several students were skeptical about the ability of certain reforms to reduce racial bias within UPD. For example, Mamadou Barry, an undeclared sophomore, said diversifying the police force might not affect racially biased policing.
“I don’t think hiring more women [officers] is really going to change anything,” Barry said. “At the end of the day, this is not a gender thing. This is a race thing. We are looked at by our color. Changing who an officer is doesn’t change anything if you don’t educate them.”
Chronopoulos identified another area where she felt Stenger’s focus areas fall short — reducing policing activities on campus. While formulating their report, the CCRB heard from several students of color who felt uncomfortable having to call the police for non-law enforcement matters, such as a dead car battery. In response, the board recommended hiring safety monitors to deal with such matters instead of police. Stenger omitted this and similar recommendations from his list of concerns.
Urena said reducing police activity altogether might be a better way to affect change than some of the reforms listed in Stenger’s letter.
“There’s no reforming a system that was built to oppress us,” Urena said.
UPD did not respond to Pipe Dream’s requests for comment.