Transcript: UCPD Chief Margo Bennett talks community trust, officer training

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William Bennett/Staff

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A member of The Daily Californian’s Editorial Board, Ella Jensen, sat down with UCPD Chief Margo Bennett on Thursday to hear from her on relevant issues regarding campus policing.

Ella Jensen: What are you trying to do to increase student trust in UCPD?

Margo Bennett: Great question. We have been to meetings with the ASUC and meetings with the Graduate Assembly and in meetings with my Vice Chancellor Marc Fisher. … We are in the process of constructing an advisory board so that there is a conduit, an avenue, to have conversations about climate on the campus. I’ve also been talking with Oscar Dubón, the chancellor of equity and inclusion, about setting up meetings with interest groups that he’s connected with and also with labor to open up channels of communication with some of our labor groups.

EJ: What conversations are going on surrounding sensitivity trainings within UCPD?

MB: Sensitivity training is an interesting phrase. Really what it boils down to is respecting one another as human beings and seeing one another as human beings. Really any opportunity that a student has to just have a conversation with an officer is important because you’re connecting with one another as human beings. Same thing is true — any officer’s opportunity to connect with a student is important as well as any opportunity to connect with a staff member.

We have police officers who were assigned to the different residence halls, different areas, different buildings. The res hall liaison is a pretty important program for us, and we have a res hall officer that is appointed and serves as the channel of communication with the police department. Sensitivity training comes with the character you have and the values you hold, whether or not you respect one another. It’s that level of respect and trust that we want to have when our officers walk in the door but also develop it more fully with our own community. And we will develop this more as we move forward.

EJ: Are Nixle alerts working effectively? Have people reached out to about the alerts or given you tips?

MB: We’ve received feedback on the alerts. … We’ve had people say, “Well you could word this differently or better” or that “This particular kind of wording impacts the victim” and we’ll ask for some help in making that better, and it has. Recently we had our attention called to the way we describe offenders, suspects in the timely warnings, especially those descriptions that are very bland and very general to Hispanic males, to black males wearing black hoodies. That helps no one in identifying a perpetrator or someone that might be dangerous in their surrounding.

We’ve been getting feedback from Equity and Inclusion, and most recently we got rid of those descriptions. If we don’t have a specific description that we can give, then we’re just gonna say “males, a group of males” and we’re not going to attempt to give a description.

EJ: In light of the fact that the number of reported rapes has increased over the past few years, has UCPD allowed more resources towards investigating those resources?

MB: First — why have the numbers increased? We know that the university has been doing a lot to provide survivor support and call attention to this type of crime. We have taken on in the past two years the obligation to send all of our officers to sexual assault trainings, we’ve agreed that those officers go and take an additional 40 hours training that they get beyond the academy. Every detective we have has been to trauma-informed training — they have a very unique and amazing program up there. We’ve sent our detectives there. We have detectives that focus on sexual assault crimes, and Sgt. Andrew Tucker has become an expert in investigating those cases, and he’s actually gone throughout the state with the District Attorney’s office doing different training for district attorneys’ offices.

We are dedicated totally in providing survivors in the type of police support they need. We have worked with Path to Care, and as soon as we find out there’s been a sexual assault, we call them and get them involved from the interview forwards. I think we’ve greatly changed the way we’ve done things, as has the greater campus community.

EJ: Do you have any updates on David Cole?

MB: The use of force review is still going, so I’m not going to comment on that. I will say that anytime we have to use force in a matter is not a good time. Use of force is not welcomed nor is it ever attractive or easy to deal with. We use force only when necessary, and when we do, we look at it hard to see if it was necessary.

I value all of the opinions and the feelings of the campus. We’re waiting for the report and then we’ll have more to say.

EJ: How are you going to continue working with major events and controversial speakers?

MB: We have a new events policy that works to make sure events continue smoothly. It’s working well.

Certainly Milo realigned what we think we need to do in order to prepare for events across the country. We will continue doing what we do where we look at past events when we look at where this speaker has been, taking a look at the climate on campus, whether or not we’re getting feedback from the outside. We will continue to staff in a manner that ensures that everyone’s free speech rights are protected. We want the event to occur and to finish in a successful way. I think Ben Shapiro showed that, “Free Speech Week” fell apart, and other speakers on campus that we’ve been very satisfied that they came, they spoke, they left, and it was a very positive event for everyone.

EJ: Lots of students have said that the new events policy seems unfair — that there are lots of hoops to jump through to getting help for events. Is this the cost of good security?

MB: I think it’s a matter of looking after everyone’s best interest. There’s a timeline that ensures that everyone have the opportunity to be prepared for an event. The one thing it does force is that the student groups need to think ahead, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. That certainly makes everyone pay attention to the time clock. It’s just a new way of doing business for us — all of us.

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