Verbum Ultimum: Safety and Accountability

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 2/25/16 7:00pm

On Tuesday morning, Student Assembly sent out its working draft of a student Bill of Rights in a campus wide email. Along with a link to a website that presents the Bill in detail, the Assembly invited students to a town hall meeting on Thursday evening. Although we recognize the fact that the Bill is a working document that can and probably will change before it sees any kind of ratification, the form in which it exists now highlights some important aspects of the student relationship with Safety and Security. This document reflects the broad mistrust of Safety and Security among the student body.

Article IV of the Bill of Rights details the Assembly’s proposed “Students’ Rights With Regards to Safety and Security.” Some of these rights, like the section that prohibits Safety and Security from engaging in coercive activities including “verbal threats and/or assault toward a student” seem intuitive. However, there are more nuanced aspects that point to aspects of the unique relationship that has been forged between Safety and Security and the student body. Section 2 of Article IV makes a call for transparency, requiring that all Safety and Security protocols be published online and printed in the student handbook. It then requires that the organization comply with and not misrepresent these policies, the failure to do either would make them subject to “an official review.”

This demand is indicative of an arguably pervasive notion among students that Safety and Security lacks transparency and is constantly “changing the rules” on us in an attempt to catch people committing violations that they don’t fully understand. Hopefully, by clearly codifying their policies and making them readily available to students, Safety and Security can not only justify their actions to students by referencing specific policies that are available to both parties, but they will also be held accountable to the standard of having to justify any significant action by citing clearly understood policies. Dartmouth’s students do not appear to trust it’s security force, and perhaps this effort at transparency can start to put everyone on equal footing and foster a mutual understanding of the rules of the game.

Section 4, Article IV calls for the establishment of a “formalized feedback mechanism, in which any encounter between students and Safety and Security officers may be reviewed by both parties involved.” The Bill goes on to stipulate that an overview of all these reports, organized by officer, be readily available to the Student Assembly president and the vice provost of student affairs. While we have some concerns about the makeup of this overview committee and if they should have access to any identifying information of complaintants, this feedback system could prove useful. It would either replace or coexist with the current ethics reporting system that Dartmouth uses, a contracted third party company called “EthicsPoint.” This system is in place for reporting of any concerns or misconduct having to do with a member of the Dartmouth community that an offended party doesn’t wish to bring to a Dartmouth official themselves.

However, this system, especially as it relates to Safety and Security conduct, is flawed to say the very least. After EthicsPoint assesses concerns brought to them, they then report back to Dartmouth, which is then supposed to take the appropriate action. The entire purpose of an independent third party ethics entity is to have a body that can objectively take action in the case of misconduct and hold the offending parties accountable. This system simply reports back to the school without disclosing the offense to the public, creating an environment in which offenses can be swept under the rug. A new system of accountability, which would be transparent and available to not only the students involved in the incident but representatives of the student body would help hold Safety and Security accountable to students. If this new system works, complaints can be followed up on and students’ point of view on incidents could be clearly established in their own words. This feedback system is also important in that it will specifically apply to Safety and Security. EthicsPoint is meant for complaints about anyone in the Dartmouth community, and such a broad scope could lead to important information concerning Safety and Security being lost in a sea of varied complaints. This new system would create a place to go specifically for Safety and Security concerns, which would make the organization more readily accessible to the students it is protecting.

It is also important to consider the implications of these stipulations in the Assembly’s Bill of Rights. What does it say about student perception of the people who are supposed to keep us safe when we think it necessary to specifically codify all the ways they are not allowed to mistreat us? This document reflects a huge schism of trust and understanding between Safety and Security and students. Whether this attitude is justified or not is another issue for another article. The point is that it exists, and it has lead to an increasingly fraught relationship between the two parties. This new Bill of Rights could be a good first step in bringing students and officers together, not only ensuring that Safety and Security acts in a way that reflects increased accountability to us, but that we begin to trust the people entrusted with our safety and security.

The Dartmouth Editorial Board consists of the Editor in Chief, the Publisher, the Executive Editors and an Opinion Editor.