PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University’s Police Chief Bill Gardner is initiating several steps to address racial bias in policing on the university’s Pullman campus, including convening a community workgroup.
The move follows a report from WSU’s Office of Civil Rights Compliance and Investigation (CRCI) that found the campus police cited or arrested Black people disproportionally more often than any other racial or ethnic group. Gardner requested the CRCI analyze three years of policing data shortly after an Aug. 29, 2019 article in the student newspaper, The Daily Evergreen, highlighted the disparity based on one year’s worth of data.
“The results of this report are alarming,” Gardner said. “I want to get to the bottom of this problem, and work to design effective strategies with input from community members. Nationally, the deaths of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people at the hands of police has made publicly addressing the issue of racial bias with transparency and resolve even more pressing. Let me start by saying I stand firmly against the use of excessive force. I believe that Black lives matter. Our aim should always be to treat people with the highest standard of care, love and respect.”
The CRCI report found that Black people made up 10.9% of the total 862 arrests during the period from Jan. 1, 2016, and Sept. 19, 2019, despite accounting for just 2.7% of the Pullman population, according to the 2010 census figures. The term “arrest” in the police data includes many non-custody enforcement situations, such as issuing a citation for driving without a license or for being a minor in possession of alcohol.
Proportionally, this means that Black people were arrested at about four times the rate of people identified as White. Black people were also more likely to be arrested than people identified as Asian, Latinx, Pacific Islander/Native or Mixed Race.
The chief promised to look into each of the individual cases involving Black individuals in the report. He will also soon start a workgroup with members of the community, including student representatives, to provide feedback and help identify solutions.
The workgroup will help the WSU police department create a Civil Rights Action Plan by December 18, 2020. The goals include increasing training offered to officers about bias and race; creating clearer policies around collection of demographic data; and providing better ways for people to report if they feel they have experienced bias in their interactions with the police.
The co-chair of the Police Advisory Board, Trymaine Gaither, also pledged to include broad student and community participation in development of the action plan.
“No more excuses. We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” said Gaither, who is the recruitment and career coordinator in WSU’s Honors College. “There is a trust deficit in our community – we acknowledge that. It’s important we get as many student and community voices in the process as possible.”
The Police Advisory Board already includes dedicated seats for representatives from several student, faculty and staff organizations, including the Black Student Union, the Associated Students of Washington State University, the Middle Eastern Student Association, the Coalition for Women Students, the Graduate and Professional Students Association, and the Black Faculty and Staff Association. Gaither wants to broaden that involvement by creating ad hoc groups to explore specific issues related to the report’s findings and invite community members along with representatives from other campus organizations such as Black Men Making a Difference and the Black Student Athlete Association to participate.
Two members of WSU’s Black Student Union (BSU) said they appreciated that the report was prepared and made public but felt that more and faster action should be taken.
“The first step is getting it out to the public and really understanding the problem,” said Sadarya Wright, a WSU apparel merchandising junior and the BSU events coordinator. “There’s no reason why the rate should be ridiculously higher for Black people than all the other groups. There needs to be a lot of change, and the university needs to bring us into whatever action plan they put in place.”
Keiley Hampton-Pantoja, the BSU’s public relations coordinator, said that the Black community needs more input.
“I would love to see the WSU police department meet with Black people and other people of color to hear our stories and opinions,” said Hampton-Pantoja who is a junior studying communications. “Actions speak louder than words. I want to see the recommendations on this report implemented, but they should be done as soon as possible, ideally before the school year starts.”
Chief Gardner said the department will work as quickly as possible to convene the working group and looks forward to engaging with members of the Black Student Union and other student groups across campus.
To read the entire report, visit police.wsu.edu/crci-report.
- Phil Weiler, vice president for marketing and communications, 509-595-1708, firstname.lastname@example.org