San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón held a press conference last Tuesday morning to discuss a new, city-wide relationship between San Francisco colleges and the SFPD. This memorandum of understanding (MOU), which focuses primarily on the legal processes associated with sexual assault, intends to bridge the gap between campus police and the San Francisco legal system. Colleges included in this memorandum are San Francisco State, City College of San Francisco, UCSF, Academy of Art University, and USF.
Each school has adopted a version of the Memorandum specific to its campus. This is because each campus police branch has different responsibilities, and therefore their agreements with the San Francisco Police Department must be fine-tuned. For example, UCSF has its own branch of SFPD with trained San Francisco police officers, while the University of San Francisco’s Public Safety department is made up of trained, but unofficial, peace officers.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris was the first to propose a memorandum of this sort this past January. Her office released a template MOU, and encouraged California universities to arrange and implement similar models. The model memorandum emphasizes the importance of collaboration, civil liberties, victim’s needs, transparency, and accountability. While the model memorandum encourages collaboration between SFPD and campus police with a focus on sexual assault, it also highlights all Title IX offenses. These include rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion, as well as violence and hate crimes.
This memorandum serves to aid the victims of Title IX offenses in respecting confidentiality and the victim’s wishes. Colleges are required to report all of these offenses to local police, but the victim may choose to remain anonymous after reporting the incident. The memorandum also simplifies the reporting process: students who choose to report to both campus authorities and SFPD have had to relive their stories multiple times in the past in order to file multiple reports. Now, both parties are working together to minimize any traumatic recollections that the witness may encounter while telling their account.
The memorandum does have a subsection dedicated to training as well. Police officers are typically trained to spot the traits of a liar, but after recent years of research, it has been revealed that those traits also overlap with those of trauma victims. “Sexual assault is practically the only type of reporting crime where victims are not assumed to be telling the truth. If you talk about getting robbed, the assumption is that the victim is telling their experience. The opposite is true for victims of sexual assault,” said Anna Bartkowski, Title IX Coordinator at USF.
Bartkowski is responsible for constructing the first draft of the University’s new memorandum. Although USF already had an existing Memorandum with SFPD, this new draft emphasizes how to approach victims of sexual assault. “What it essentially is is an amalgamation of the former MOU combined with a lot of the elements from the State Attorney General Kamala Harris’s template MOU. We combined the two of them and we sort of revised it to meet our specific needs at USF.”
Bartkowski also mentioned that UCSF has a very similar model to that of Kamala Harris’s template, whereas USF’s MOU is more specific to the private university’s needs. “The UCSF department really wanted to pull [San Francisco Colleges] all together, which was great. They really took the initiative to do that, and the DA’s office really jumped on that as well,” said Bartkowski.
This MOU also works to bridge the communication gap between colleges and SFPD in relation to all crimes near campus. “This MOU states that now they’ll share information with us about what happens in our region, and we’re going to share information with them,” said Bartkowski, “It helps us to protect our community, but also we share our information with SFPD so we can have a higher-level view of the region.” USF will also provide SFPD aggregate data on a regular basis about different types of violations that occur on campus, so that the police department may have a better understanding of what types of crimes to look out for.
Gascón’s press conference was held at USF due to the University’s recent implementation of sexual assault awareness programs. These programs include the online sexual assault reporting system Callisto, an emergency responder app called BlueLight, and Think About It, a mandatory sexual assault and wellness training for all undergraduate students.
“Our intention is to be as transparent and open as we can be in our processes and procedures,” said Bartkowski, “Our number one priority is for the safety of our community.”