USF is Developing a ‘Modern Policing’ Initiative

USF considers developing a police program focused on social justice education and Jesuit values. PHOTO BY NIA RATLIFF/SF FOGHORN

In an email to students Feb. 14, USF announced their ongoing development of a “modern policing education initiative,” that would be offered to undergraduates who eventually want to join a police force. 

“The idea would be to offer entering USF undergraduates who intend to apply to the San Francisco Police Department a [path] to a bachelor’s degree, including a curriculum tailored to the goal of producing more critically thoughtful peace officers before they take the next steps towards entering the profession,” sociology Professor Joshua P. Gamson told the Foghorn. The theoretical program would still be open to students who are not interested in joining the police academy.

Gamson, who is also the associate dean of social sciences, is helping lead the initiative to develop this program along with Professor Kim Richman, the chair of the sociology department. Because it is still so early in development, members of the working group were unable to say exactly what the program would look like, if it happens at all. In a statement to the Foghorn, Gamson said the University has not entered into any formal agreement to host this program, though they are looking into it. 

“I want to be very clear that USF is not starting a police training program or a program for current police officers. Police officer training is done in police academies, and USF is not involved in nor planning on getting involved in police training,” said Gamson. “The only vision under consideration is of a program that would transform policing through social justice-based education.”

“By the end of the semester we hope to have a proposal, which would then go through the full development, review, revision, and approval process… which generally takes many months,” said Gamson. “The earliest an eventual program could start is fall 2024.”

According to Gamson, the program is being developed by a working group of faculty and staff from 16 different campus organizations and schools, including critical diversity studies, performing arts and social justice, University Ministry, and Black Achievement Success and Engagement (BASE). In the announcement email last week, Gamson and Richman also invited USF students to join the working group, and expect to have two graduate and two undergraduate students to help plan and advise.

“As we enter this conceptual project, we will draw on the depth of scholarship of USF faculty and the wealth of experience of USF staff. We will also draw upon the wisdom of USF alumni,” President Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., said in a statement to the Foghorn.

“It’s going to be strongly aligned with the USF mission. Otherwise, we’re not going to do it,” said member of the working group, Director of the Center for Non-violence and Social Justice Jonathan Greenberg in an interview with the Foghorn.

This comes off the heels of a 2021 California bill, AB 89, that requires new police trainees to have a bachelor’s degree, and tasked the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges (CCC) to develop a policing degree program. By June of this year, the CCC taskforce will have to present their ideas for a program to California Legislation, which will then guide the state’s plans on how to implement the bill. AB 89 also raised the minimum age requirement to be an officer from 18 to 21 years old. 

All states require officers to have a high school diploma before joining the academy, but only 20 states require any additional education or experience. According to data from the National Policing Institution, only 30% of police officers have a four-year degree. California will be the first state to require a four-year degree.

“We do find that many of our recruits who have college credits and degrees often are further ahead in certain areas,” said Nicole Jones, commander of the San Francisco Police Department’s administration bureau, in an interview with the Foghorn. “And we’re hoping that we can merge those two together at some point so our recruits are better prepared and then become better police officers.”

In 2022, USF was asked by the City of San Francisco and the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) to consider developing their own policing program within the ideology of a Jesuit education.

“When you look at Jesuit values, you start looking at the alignment around humanity and caring, and being able to understand how to serve the community from a social justice perspective,” said Director of SFPD Policy and Public Affairs Diana Oliva, in an interview with the Foghorn. “There’s been a huge shift with the [SFPD] department of building this trust that’s been broken, and that we do need to look at people with safety and respect.”

Not much has been decided on the curricula of the program, as it is still in its early development stages, but each member of the working group the Foghorn spoke to stressed the focus of the program being on social justice and police reform.

“My thoughts were that, if introduced the right way, it can be a powerful medium for a more modern kind of ‘community centered policing,’ and it would be great for Jesuit university to be involved in that process,” said Reginold Daniels, performing arts and social justice professor. 

Community centered policing is an idea where officers are more active members of their communities, and have relationships with citizens, leaders, and activists. Ideally, this would lead to better policing and cooperation with the law.

Daniels also stressed that there needs to be focus on how this program could impact people in the community that have had negative interactions or perceptions of police officers. “There needs to be some oversight, constant oversight, to see that things stay on track, that this is a help to the community and not a hindrance,” he said.

In 2022, USF’s debate team moderated an open forum on campus policing within the public safety department, and how it could better help its community. Dan Lawson, director of Public Safety, is in the working group, and recommended training that USF public safety officers have undergone, including unconscious bias seminars. 

“We understand that in our society, policing, it’s not just a few bad apples, it’s the culture itself. So we have to change the culture of policing,” Lawson told the Foghorn. “Many officers that come into the business, do so because they think they’re fighting crime, and they’re warriors. Most of their job has nothing to do with crime fighting, it has to do with problem solving with the community, and… they don’t have those skills to do so.”

A study done for Sage Publications revealed that officers with a college degree were less likely to use verbal coercion or physical force, and more than 40% less likely to shoot than those with only a high school degree.

USF has been the only school SFPD has contacted for such an initiative so far. “[The partnership] was something that was more intentional based on conversations and interactions on the other initiatives,” said Oliva, who is also a USF graduate student. “Father Fitzgerald, the mayor, and the chief of police have a really close relationship.” USF has previously hosted an online forum with SFPD in 2020, that discussed police reform after the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed.

Because the program is in such early stages, no financial incentives or scholarships have been discussed in attracting hopeful police recruits to USF, but the idea of a joint “two track” program with City College of San Francisco (CCSF) has been pitched. Current SFPD officers will not be required to have a degree, but Jones said they are not opposed to it.

“At the end of the day, we’re trying to turn out very high quality, competent police officers that are going to serve the community,” said Jones. “Community trust has been shaken many, many times over the last few years due to nationwide events, local events, and we want to provide the highest quality police services that we can.”


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