Smith College revamping campus police department

  • The Grecourt Gates of Smith College on Elm Street in Northampton. KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 2/20/2020 5:56:18 PM
Modified: 2/20/2020 5:56:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Smith College has announced several changes to its police force, including a new campus safety department and expanded biking and walking shifts to reduce the presence of police cruisers.

In an email to campus, Vice President for Finance and Administration David DeSwert wrote that the college’s Ad Hoc Campus Safety Advisory Group had come up with the new recommendations after hearing from more than 425 people during listening sessions and forums last semester. 

“We received more than 750 comments, all of which informed our work and helped us meet our commitment to an inclusive, responsive and transparent process,” wrote DeSwert, who chairs the Campus Safety Advisory Group.

DeSwert said the college will renovate and expand its campus safety department and dispatch center on West Street. The department will also take a more “community-focused” approach, he said. That means more biking and walking beats for officers, expanded programming to build “community engagement,” and creating a community advisory committee to the revamped police department, with seats saved for students.

The changes come after several years of tension between students, the Smith police department and college administrators. 

Last spring, Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges parted ways with their newly appointed police chief, Daniel Hect, after student protesters denounced his social media activity, which included liking a tweet instructing President Donald Trump to “BUILD THAT WALL!” Following the departure of Hect, Smith and Mount Holyoke announced that they would no longer operate a joint police department.

Protests also erupted after the summer of 2018, when a staffer called campus police on a black student on lunch break — an incident that made national news.

It was in that context that Smith’s Campus Safety Advisory Group conducted its work. In his statement to campus, DeSwert cited the campus police department’s policy regarding student immigration status.

“The department will continue its commitment to take no voluntary action to release any information regarding the citizenship or immigration status of any student, staff or faculty member unless legally compelled to do so,” he wrote. “Should the college be subpoenaed for such information, we will seek legal counsel before taking any steps to comply.”

The college will continue employing sworn police officers. DeSwert said officers will not be armed. 

“First, a sworn department is held to high accreditation standards, and sworn officers are regularly trained on a host of issues including de-escalation, mental health response and inclusive community policing techniques,” he said. “Additionally, a sworn and accredited department reduces the need for armed local law enforcement (city and state) to respond to nonemergency calls on campus.”

The department will also keep the word “police” as part of its name. DeSwert said the feedback the group received from students, staff and faculty indicated they preferred “police” being in the department's name, so long as it was “accompanied by a transparent, community-focused model.”

“Based on that feedback, we plan to continue to use ‘police’ in the department’s name,” DeSwert said. “Potential options include ‘Smith College campus police’ and ‘Smith College campus police and public safety.’” 

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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