Cal State East Bay has one of the most diverse campus police departments in California. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

How Diverse Are Campus Police?

The role of campus police has been getting increased scrutiny, with student activists intensifying calls for change. Over the past few months, we’ve been working with a group of California student journalists to get underneath the heated debate and examine some of the key issues.

Here’s the bottom line of one of their first stories, published this week: California’s public universities are among the most racially diverse in the nation, but their campus police departments don’t reflect that.

The story — by Omar Rashad and Katherine Swartz, two fellows in the CalMatters College Journalism Network — analyzes records they obtained of the race and gender of every active, sworn police officer at the University of California and California State University as of February 11, 2021, from the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.

What the data show:

  • Roughly half of the nearly 800 sworn officers employed by California’s two public-university systems are white, compared with less than a quarter of students.
  • At 32 of 33 UC and CSU campuses, police officers are whiter than the students — and in many cases, the disparities are glaring.

Here’s how that looks at the different campuses:

Labeled As Suspicious

While we were working on these stories, one of our reporters was himself stopped by campus police as he biked home from a university bookstore.

The police officer who stopped Julian Mendoza, a student at Chico State University, told him he was pulled over because riding a bike on campus is illegal (which it is) and also because he looked “suspicious.”

As it happens, Chico State is the whitest campus police department in the state — 16 out of its 18 officers are white on a campus where less than half of the students are.

Julian wrote about his encounter for CalMatters. He was eventually let go with a warning — after two more police officers arrived on the scene — but the experience shook him:

“I couldn’t help feeling like the incident had to do at least in part with my ethnicity,” he wrote in his essay. “I’ve barely left my apartment this past year because of the pandemic, and the one time I did leave, I got labeled as a suspicious individual by the same institution I attend. To be tracked down by three officers for something as minor as biking on an empty campus just made me feel like I didn’t belong here.”

A More Complete Conversation

The CalMatters fellows, who are continuing to report on these issues, say they’ve been struck by how different campus police departments are across the state. Some, Katherine says, clearly prioritize diversity, in hiring and in training, while others don’t. More reporting matters, Julian adds, because these police departments affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of students but don’t get a lot of coverage.

“This is a topic that in many settings is polarizing, traumatic, and controversial for those involved,” Omar says. “Being able to inspect data and connect the dots on larger issues through informed research and reporting means coming closer to having a more complete conversation about campus policing.“

Sara Hebel and Scott Smallwood

+ CalMatters is interested in hearing about student experiences with campus police. If you, or anyone you know, are willing to share, please fill out this form.

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A Work in Progress

We talk about a lot of different goals for higher education. But when you ask prospective students why they’re going to college, the answer is always super clear: To get a good job.

We’re excited to announce we’re teaming up with Paul Fain, a veteran higher-ed journalist, to shine more light on how well all types of postsecondary education are delivering on that promise. Next week, Paul is launching The Job — his email newsletter on the connections between higher education and the American workforce.

Here’s how he describes his plan:

“With a focus on community colleges, online education, employer partnerships, and state and federal policy, I’ll cut through the noise by telling you where the industry churn could lead to meaningful change.”

I asked him why this matters now:

“The pandemic has exposed and worsened problems with our postsecondary education systems, which have failed to work as engines of opportunity for many lower-income Americans. We face an enormous challenge to reengage millions of young people and displaced workers with education and training options that work for them and lead to a good job.”

Some of the questions he’s expecting to tackle in the coming months:

  • Who should pay for these programs?
  • How can we best ensure that government aid is used to help learners improve their economic mobility?
  • Can innovative solutions work at scale?
  • What about tracking and credentialism?

To get Paul’s newsletter, sign up here.

+ And see all of the Open Campus newsletters here. With this newest one, we’re up to five.

++ Zipporah Osei is restarting First Gen next month. If you’re a recent first-gen college grad (or know one), get in touch with her.

— Scott Smallwood

Elsewhere on Open Campus

The pandemic caused thousands of students in El Paso to at least temporarily pause their pursuit of higher ed. Jewél Jackson writes for our partner El Paso Matters about how the University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College are working to get them back.

Wondering where to start when completing the Fafsa? Want to avoid common mistakes? Molly Minta put together a guide for the readers of Mississippi Today that’s helpful for families anywhere.

The University of California at Santa Cruz and its host city are nearing another collision over the impacts of campus growth. Nick Ibarra probes the town-gown tensions for our partner Lookout Santa Cruz.

Colorado lawmakers are weighing legislation to require colleges to charge in-state tuition to any student part of a federally recognized American Indian tribe that lived in the state. Jason Gonzales’ story for our partner Chalkbeat Colorado explores what Indigenous students need.


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