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Reimagining safety at the University of Washington

Creating learning, working and living environments that enable each of us to be successful requires a holistic approach to safety and well-being that brings together a range of resources in a coordinated, accountable manner. And as we continuously evaluate the safety of our community, it has become clear to me — as it has to many of you — that a rethinking of how we keep our University community safe is required.

A community of the UW’s size and complexity — three campuses and numerous medical facilities, all with public and private spaces including classrooms, research labs and residences, and all in an earthquake- and flood-prone region — requires a range of safety services. These range from overall emergency readiness and response, to violence prevention, mental health support, and both situation-appropriate intervention and post-incident support carried out as needed by unarmed safety responders or armed law enforcement officers. A holistic approach to safety and well-being must be responsive to the different needs, as well as to the different experiences — some negative — that various community members have had with safety resources and personnel, both on and off of our campuses.

Currently, units such as SafeCampus, Emergency Management and the UW Police Department (UWPD) operate in different divisions. Some have missions that are University-wide, while others serve a specific campus or part of the University community. That limits the ability of staff in each of these units to achieve the level of coordination we need to create a holistic, community-centered approach to safety and well-being.

To move us toward a future in which safety resources and responses are aligned with our community’s values, I have asked Sally Clark, director of regional and community relations, to lead a reimagining of how safety and well-being resources are organized and delivered at the UW. Clark’s experience in city government, including work on comprehensive emergency preparedness planning, and her track record of successfully bringing together a range of stakeholders on various UW-wide projects will be invaluable as she leads this effort, which will unfold over the remainder of this academic year.

Consulting with student, faculty and staff leadership groups, Clark will lead an effort that will enable the University to better plan for and respond to situations based on individual and community needs and experiences. This will include aligning SafeCampus, Emergency Management and UWPD in a new organization under a vice president-level position, while also evaluating what other safety and well-being units should more closely associate with this new entity, such as Environmental Health & Safety and Health Sciences Security. The process will also evaluate better coordination of community safety priorities and implementation across all three campuses and UW Medicine locations in order to prioritize the safety of all members of our community. At the same time, the UW Bothell and UW Tacoma chancellors will also launch efforts to evaluate the specific safety needs of their campuses and how to meet them while also aligning with the UW’s overall goal of a holistic approach to safety and well-being across the University.

Because “safety” has too often been conceived of merely as “policing,” I want to address the question of armed law enforcement officers. As I discussed during the Q&A section of the Annual President’s Address, potential threats mean armed police must remain available on our campuses. But they should not be the only option at our disposal when responding to general calls for assistance. Often they may not be needed in the response at all, which is why we have hired, and will continue to expand, unarmed safety responders and have created an online reporting tool. And UWPD dispatchers have been trained to assess calls for assistance and ensure that the most appropriate available response is used.

With interim UWPD chief Randall West’s upcoming retirement — he will be succeeded by Deputy Chief Craig Wilson in that interim role — we will prioritize this more holistic conception of safety as we resume the search for the next chief of the UWPD.

We will share updates about the reimagining of safety resources at over the course of the academic year. This page includes a feedback form for you to share your thoughts and ideas.

This process will require us to rethink not just how our safety resources are structured, but how we conceive of campus community safety in the first place. By creating a unified, holistic and community-centered approach, we can create safe and welcoming environments that enable everyone to be successful.