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Update on the Community Safety Advisory Board and Campus Safety

The important lens of campus advocacy — particularly from students — has propelled and continued to inform the CSAB’s approach.”

Dear students, faculty and staff, 

As we start a new academic year filled with excitement and optimism, we are mindful that we are returning to campus amidst a continuing national dialogue about social justice. In particular, we recognize the national epidemic of violence targeting the BIPOC community.

At Northwestern, members of the BIPOC community and their many likeminded allies have insisted on change. The Community Safety Advisory Board (CSAB) was convened as the first step towards a fundamental reinvention of safety and security on our Evanston and Chicago campuses. The important lens of campus advocacy — particularly from students — has propelled and continued to inform the CSAB’s approach.

As the co-chairs of the CSAB, we offer you this update of work completed to date and further progress planned for this fall, including the opportunity for you to provide us your thoughts and feedback confidentially to inform our discussions.

Importantly, we share our initial guiding principles that evolved from a deliberate process of listening, engagement with concerned parties and critical input from outside consultants, faculty experts and community leaders. The members of the CSAB — which contains undergraduate students, graduate students, post-docs, staff, alumni and faculty — provided significant input.

The Community Safety Advisory Board

The CSAB first convened in winter 2020-21. The primary role of the CSAB is to advise University leadership on community safety and well-being. Members of the CSAB bring a variety of personal experience, professional expertise and knowledge of campus safety.

Initial Guiding Principles

Over the course of many discussions within the CSAB, certain themes have served as initial guiding principles: 

  1. Resources and responses to campus safety should be recalibrated to provide appropriately measured responses.
  2. Allocation of financial resources to other areas addressing wellness is a top priority.
  3. First responses for mental health situations should be by licensed mental health counselors.
  4. Unarmed civilian personnel should address a majority of operational safety concerns.
  5. Armed personnel should be dispatched only when absolutely necessary. Data support the rarity of these occurrences.
  6. For those armed officers on duty, their visible presence should be minimized.

The CSAB welcomes the community’s feedback and will continue to refine these guiding principles this fall.

Actions on Campus Safety

During the Winter Quarter, the CSAB reviewed results of an external review of the Department of Safety and Security. Our dialogue resulted in the CSAB issuing four initial proposals to University leadership to initiate changes.

The University then established working groups that spent the Spring Quarter analyzing questions posed by the CSAB and developing recommendations on how to enact each of these proposals. While the CSAB is still considering the input and will continue to discuss ideas, we commend the time spent by these groups and the seriousness with which they developed recommendations.

We are encouraged by some of the actions already taken or set in motion over the summer by the University based on our proposals and feedback. Some include:

Mental Health

  • Work has begun on creating a team of trained mental health counselors who can respond to crisis events involving the Northwestern community, particularly with students. This will almost always remove campus security from direct involvement in a mental health crisis situation. The University anticipates hiring 3-5 mental health counselors by allocating an additional $300,000-$500,000 to this critical priority.
  • Ambulances from an independent company will now transfer students experiencing mental health crises to the hospital from CAPS. Campus officers will no longer be used in this function. The University has established funds to support the cost of ambulance transport for all students regardless of their insurance status.

Safety and Security

  • The Safety and Security organization will now report to the vice president of operations rather than directly to the university’s business and finance leader. This better reflects its operational purpose and will allow greater alignment with other functions in the operations portfolio such as compliance, risk management and community engagement.
  • Safety and Security also will adopt a more holistic approach to campus safety beyond that of physical well-being. It now will have responsibility for the safety of our physical environment as well, such as fire prevention and indoor air quality.
  • The unarmed, civilian Community Service Officer function is transitioning from being led by security personnel to civilian leadership. This represents a shift of $1.2 million from the armed security budget to the purview of civilian leaders.
  • Leaders are evaluating operational models to assign tasks away from police and towards unarmed civilian staff units, such as the previously mentioned mental health counselor team or Facilities, to minimize the visible presence and dispatch of armed officers on campus.

Handling of Complaints

  • Complaints about members or actions of Safety and Security will now go to University Compliance to foster independent oversight and investigation by civilian leadership. Complainants will receive an update of the outcomes of an investigation and can request independent review of an investigation if a process deficiency is identified. Oversight of remediation or corrective actions will be conducted by a central office (e.g., Human Resources) rather than Safety and Security. 

Racial Identifiers in Crime Notices

  • Racial identifiers in campus crime notices, which have in the past furthered harmful stereotypes and bias, will rarely be used in campus crime notices.

Other potential actions explored in CSAB meetings and endorsed by outside experts remain under consideration by university leaders. Further discussions, within the context of broader university obligations, will influence next steps.

Fall Quarter Activities and Your Input

During the Fall Quarter, the CSAB will meet directly with each of the four working groups to continue to examine their findings and provide additional feedback to consider. Additional topics under review by the CSAB will require ongoing discussions as well. As those discussions conclude, we will issue a final report to the Northwestern community later this fall on our findings and proposals, updates on progress made and our guiding principles for campus safety going forward.

In the interim, we invite public comment on these initial guiding principles and actions. We also welcome other suggestions you may have related to safety on our campuses. The CSAB will closely consider your thoughts as we finalize our report.

We view this work as a platform for fundamental change in the way that the Northwestern community experiences safety and security. We also commit to continued effort to build upon the momentum for change. Thank you for your thoughtful engagement.