On May 31, Drexel and University of Pennsylvania police officers arrived at a protest on 52nd Street and joined the Philadelphia Police Department officers already present. This has raised questions as to why both universities’ police forces were present: whether they were called to the scene or whether university police should have been present at a location 16blocks west of their jurisdictions.
Nearly two months later, Drexel’s Office of Equality and Diversity released a statement addressing this incident. “The Drexel University Police Department (DUPD), like other private police departments in Philadelphia, has agreed to respond to emergencies when the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) calls for assistance,” the Office notes. They continued to state that Drexel Police were, in fact, summoned by the Philadelphia Police Department after the protests escalated and became disorderly.
According to this report, Drexel Police were solely focused on securing the perimeter and assisting with rerouting vehicle and foot traffic at the scene. They were not involved in the use of tear gas, pepper spray or rubber bullets that were unleashed by the PPD on protestors. Although this may be the case, it was still alarming for many students to see Drexel Police officers acting vastly outside of their normal jurisdiction of 30th to 36th streets and Chestnut to Spring Garden streets. The university concluded their statement with an acknowledgement of the situation’s severity and later called for a “thorough review” of their policies. While the details of this review are not yet known, we hope that their policies will adapt according to the concerns raised by this incident.
Working closely with an outside police force is not unheard of for the university, as Drexel Police often work with UPenn Police, Philadelphia Police, SEPTA Police, Amtrak Police and Philadelphia Housing Authority Police, both on its University City and Center City campuses. However, since the incident on May 31, both UPenn and Drexel have been grappling with what roles they want their campus police forces to fill.
UPenn has called for the abolition and reimagination of their campus police force and has listed other demands such as to “redress the legacy of racism, colonialism and slavery on campus,” “divest form the Prison Industrial Complex” and “decriminalize Blackness, Protest and Poverty.”
The group Drexel Community For Justice has also made a petition to defund Drexel Police and cut ties with Philadelphia Police, listing the following demands:
- Terminate any current contracts with the Philadelphia Police Department.
- End all financial contributions to the Philadelphia Police Foundation.
- Divest from the Drexel University Police.
- Invest in the Education Equity Fund, paying at least 40 percent of forgone property taxes. These funds will be used to meet the essential needs of Philadelphia public schools.
- Appoint a committee of law scholars and community stakeholders to conduct an independent investigation of Drexel University Police practices.
- Safely hold University events without armed officials.
- Practice transparency with students and community members, publishing a quarterly report on the University’s ongoing anti-racism initiatives.
Drexel Community For Justice is also organizing a University City march to defund campus police scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 9.
These demands and statements from all parties involved raise a question of what the role of Drexel’s on-campus police should play from this point on. In the coming months, as many students return to campus, this question is incumbent on the entire Drexel community.
In addition to conversations taking place about police brutality, accountability and demilitarization on a national level, we, as members of the Drexel community, are responsible for defining the future jurisdiction of Drexel Police and calling for the change that we want to see. If an incident similar to the one that occurred on May 31 should happen again, do we want Drexel Police to be involved?
One must ask: with the highly financed Philadelphia Police Department and the multiple other university police departments nearby, does Drexel need such a robust force? Why should they, if there are so many others waiting within the wings? And if Drexel does need the police officers it has, what exactly is the extent — and the limitations — of that role?