Independent Review Of SU DPS Finds Shortcomings In Response to Racist Incidents, Protests

Feb 22, 2021

Chancellor Kent Syverud, in distance, speaks to a crowd gathered at SU's Barnes Center in November 2019.
Credit WAER file photo

Former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has completed a year-long independent review of Syracuse University’s Department of Public Safety after their response to a string of racist incidents on campus in late 2019.  That prompted weeks of protest, and the atmosphere of mistrust between students, officers, and administrators escalated from there.


Racist messages found in residence halls sparked the #notagain SU movement in November of 2019, where students held sit ins for several weeks in campus buildings.  Administrators and DPS officers were harshly criticized for not handling the matter in a comprehensive, sensitive, and transparent way as the racist incidents continued without arrests.  

Student frustration mounted into February when DPS was condemned for its response to the occupation of the Crouse-Hinds Administration building.  Lynch and her team reviewed more than 20,000 documents, and interviewed 77 witnesses, including students, DPS officers, and administrators in its investigation.  They confirmed that many of the actions taken in response to the racist incidents did not recognize students fear or distress.  The report also found DPS responses to actions to be subjective and arbitrary. 

Lynch and her team recommend tightening up rather ambiguous language in DPS procedures regarding the classification of bias incidents or hate crimes, how to respond to large campus protests, addressing professional standards, and use of force policy.  In an email to the SU community, Chancellor Kent Syverud said the report shows its clear where the university fell short, and that they let down all students, especially those of color who experienced the hate incidents in personal and distressing ways.  Syverud says he accepts the conclusions in the report, and has directed leaders to implement the recommendations.

Here's Syverud's complete message:

MONDAY, FEB. 22, 2021

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:

A short time ago, you received a message from former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Ms. Lynch and her colleagues from the Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison law firm have completed their independent review [PDF] of our Department of Public Safety (DPS) and framework for a DPS Community Review Board.

I received the report on Saturday morning and spent the weekend reviewing the findings and recommendations. Yesterday, I spoke with Ms. Lynch and thanked her for her team’s diligence and effort. I am also grateful to our students, faculty and staff who offered thoughtful and candid insights.

It is clear where we fell short. It is also clear that many of our students, particularly students of color, experienced the hate incidents on our campus in deeply personal and distressing ways. At times, actions taken by the University, including by DPS, exacerbated that fear. We let you down. I am committed to ensuring we do better to rebuild and strengthen trust and mutual respect among our campus community.

I accept the conclusions outlined in the report and have directed the appropriate leaders to implement the recommendations. In the coming days, I will share more specific information on how the University will fulfill these recommendations.

This independent review of DPS is just one step in building a community that is welcoming to everyone. It also includes forthcoming recommendations from the Board of Trustees Special Committee on University Climate, Diversity and Inclusion. It includes the results of a campus climate survey conducted by Dr. Damon Williams that will be shared with our community by mid-March. It includes the creation of a Universitywide strategic plan for diversity, inclusion, equity and access.

There is no endpoint to this work. It will evolve to meet the changing needs of our community. It requires open hearts and minds. It requires the humility to acknowledge when you haven’t gotten things right, and the resolve to get them right. And together, with grace, I know we will get there.

Sincerely,

Chancellor Kent Syverud