SDSUPD changes policy on suspect racial descriptions


Andrew Dyer

SDSU Chief of Police Josh Mays said university police will make changes to the way they describe suspects to be more racially sensitive.

by Bella Ross, News Editor

Mounting criticism surrounding the way university police report suspect descriptions has led to some changes in the way students get notified about incidents of crime on campus.

In an Oct. 1 campus-wide email from SDSU Chief of Police Josh Mays and AVP for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Luke Wood, university police said they are implementing a number of policy changes that will affect the way these notifications describe suspects.

When it comes to issuing suspect descriptions, one of the first characteristics that will often come

up is race. Criticisms regarding the way this practice endangers people of color have led university police to take action.

For events that occur off campus that call for Campus Safety notifications, the email said the new policy ensures suspect descriptions will refrain from including the suspect’s race.

“ … The race of the suspect will not be released unless there is enough identifiable information to distinguish the suspect from our students, faculty and staff of color,” the email said.

Another policy change that was detailed in the email will limit available suspect descriptions to a single text message.

“This procedure is intended to avoid sending vague information in one text that is limited to the race and gender of the suspect when further information is forthcoming,” the email said.

The university will also pursue research into “varying interpretations of Clery requirements across the CSU,” with hopes of determining new methods for approaching suspect descriptions, according to the email.

University police’s email to students and faculty cited a safety notification that was sent out before classes started that sparked criticism from the community for being racially insensitive.

“Victims and witnesses described the suspects as tall, thin Black male adults in their early 20s, wearing hooded sweatshirts. A more complete description was not available,” the safety notification said.

Community members said the suspect description in this notification was offensive and unhelpful.

“Several faculty and staff raised concerns regarding the vagueness of the notification, noting that a lack of a complete description did not aid in identifying a suspect,” the email said.

Interdisciplinary studies senior Mélat Zippi said these kinds of suspect descriptions have historically put people of color in harm’s way. She said a university-wide text alert in regards to police activity on Sept. 26 was particularly concerning.

“Police are searching for a Black male adult with a felony warrant located east of College Ave. and south of Alvarado Rd.,” the text said.

Zippi said descriptions like this one are part of a larger issue in society that puts all people of color at risk with the police.

“All it said was ‘black male adult’ and that includes pretty much everybody on campus who is a black male,” Zippi said. “That puts them at risk for every kind of stereotype you can imagine.”

Zippi said she thinks these policy changes hit the issue right on the head. She said she is hopeful these changes will ensure that only the guilty have to see the consequences of betraying the law.

“Whoever is guilty, is guilty,” Zippi said. “We want them to deal with it instead of the rest of the population.”