Former AG Loretta Lynch issues report on Syracuse University’s campus police after student protests

Former US Attorney General Loretta Lynch released her final report Monday into Syracuse University’s Department of Public Safety, capping a nearly yearlong inquiry into the department.

University Chancellor Kent Syverud announced Lynch’s independent review of campus public safety in February 2020, in the wake of student protests over the university’s handling of racist incidents on campus. The former attorney general currently serves as a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

Students’ complaints often extended to the campus public safety department itself. During a sit-in at Crouse-Hinds Hall that month, students told CNN that public safety officials had initially refused to allow community members to give food to students protesting.

Among Lynch’s “key conclusions” in the nearly 100-page report is that campus public safety should streamline how it shares information to the campus community, better adhere to its standard operating procedures for bias-related incidents, and strengthen its “community policing ethos.”

“DPS leadership should encourage responses from officers that are more empathetic when they are responding to all calls — even more so in the context of bias-related incidents or other instances where students feel threatened or unsafe,” Lynch continued in the report.

Syracuse gave investigators “unfettered access to all individuals” they wanted to interview and fully cooperated in the investigation, according to Lynch’s report. It goes on to assess major bias incidents and the university’s responses to them in the 2019-2020 academic year, presenting a common theme of community members distrusting DPS, thereby inflaming already heightened tensions.

Regarding the Crouse-Hinds Hall sit-in, Lynch wrote that her investigators “cannot conclude that the students were deprived of food by the administration or by DPS,” because the administration provided food for protesters within 26 hours and allowed community members to offer food within 48 hours.

Investigators also concluded that a DPS officer was trying to secure his holster and not attempting to grab his gun to use or intimidate the crowd during the sit-in.

“The deployment of DPS to the student protest at Crouse-Hinds Hall meant that DPS acted as the face of the response to the protest. It also greatly exacerbated students’ preexisting lack of trust in and sense of connection with DPS itself, which stemmed in large part from an accumulation of concerns with DPS around transparency and accountability,” the report says.

Syverud said he accepts the report’s conclusions and will share the university’s specific response “in the coming days.”

“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,” Syverud wrote to the campus community Monday.

“We let you down. I am committed to ensuring we do better to rebuild and strengthen trust and mutual respect among our campus community,” he said.

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