The Department of Public Safety at the University of Utah has made major changes to its department, from officer language to cultural changes within the department. One of their most recent changes was the renaming of U-Campus police officers as “Peace” officers.
Many of the changes made to the U Police Department and the U Department of Public Safety stem from the tragic death of Lauren McCluskey, said Keith Squires, the U’s chief safety officer.
“Everything in the department has really been driven out of tragedy over the past few years,” Squires said.
According to Squires, his past experiences inspired him to make this change to the current U cops, saying there’s more to a police officer’s job than just writing subpoenas and arresting people.
“I’ve seen myself as a peace officer my entire career,” Squires said. “Whatever the reputation, whatever anyone needs from me, I’m there first and foremost to keep anyone from harm and to keep the peace.”
Squires also hopes this change will inspire campus police officers to approach their jobs in a way that reflects this idea of keeping the peace, and that there are other approaches through the U’s resources to resolve disputes.
“It’s nice that we have all these resources at our disposal to find the best ways to just keep the peace here in our community, and I want to give our officers the opportunity to know that’s how they view their approach.” how we do our jobs the same way,” Squires said.
Police uniforms and vehicles will continue to be marked “Police” so people can identify them, but they will have “Peace Officer” markings on the side of our vehicles, Squires said. The rebrand is more of an internal reminder for the department to do things that are in the best interest of the community.
This change was first announced in a now-deleted tweet from the official U Twitter account. According to Squires, this tweet was deleted because the Department of Public Safety wanted to announce this renaming in a different way and didn’t like how the tweet portrayed the new look of the underground police officers.
“The change was first reflected in a tweet we posted that read ‘Peace Officer.’ [a] tactical work vest, and this stark contrast right at the initial introduction to that is not what we originally intended,” said Squires.
While Squires said the department has received a positive response to the changes, Ermiya Fanaeian, a student at U who is studying political science, said that simply changing the names of its officers does not make U police and their actions any more welcoming will in the past have discouraged students from coming to them.
“They think this renaming will somehow make them more accessible to the community, but in reality they are not accessible to the community as they have not been peaceful in any way in the past and in their initiatives,” Fanaeian said.
This initiative will not achieve what the department expressed hopes fanatic, and instead of making them more approachable, this rebranding shows the dominance of the police over the students.
“So it seems like they’re just escalating a police state to watch us to deploy some sort of hyper-patrol in our campus communities, rather than making sure we actually feel safe on our campus,” Fanaeian said.
According to Fanaeian, a name change will not make U Police outreach more effective, and there needs to be an actual change within the system for there to be a difference.
“It was a system of domination, control and surveillance of our communities,” Fanaeian said. “There is definitely a need to overhaul the entire college campus police force in a way that it has yet to offer.”
Squires said the Public Safety Department at U is working to rebuild students’ trust in them, and they want students to be able to ask questions and offer their opinions on new initiatives.
“There are no questions from the table,” Squires said. “We’re really trying our best to be as transparent as possible. I think that’s key for us to move forward and really build the trust with the community that they need.”