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The Working Group on TUPD Arming (WGTA) today released its final report, which recommends that Tufts University move to a new “hybrid” policing model that will better support the psychological, emotional, and physical safety of students, faculty, and staff and provide services calibrated to the needs of Tufts’ impulses. In this model, the Department of Public Safety will use both unarmed security professionals and armed police officers and will respond to calls with resources tailored to the given situation. The recommendations of the WGTA have been reviewed and approved by President Anthony P. Monaco.

“The hybrid model gives Tufts the full set of tools we must have to best respond to the needs of our community,” said Executive Vice President Mike Howard, who served as the WGTA chair. “Very often, that response will be with an unarmed approach, which is much more protective of the whole well-being of all students, faculty, and staff and thereby contributes to the safe environment that is essential if those who study and work at Tufts are to thrive.”

The new model caps nearly a year of study, consultation, data analysis, and deliberation by the WGTA, a university-wide group whose creation was a key recommendation of the Working Group on Campus Safety and Policing (WGCSP), one of five workstreams of the Tufts as an Anti-Racist Institution strategic initiative.

Between April 2021 and February 2022, the WGTA reviewed in-depth the current TUPD organization and operations and performed a detailed analysis of more than 150,000 calls for service within the last several years. The group also conducted extensive community engagement including a university-wide survey on arming, campus forums, and stakeholder group meetings.

The community engagement process revealed a wide range of views on university arming, which varied among campuses, by constituent types (i.e., faculty, staff, and students), and within racial and ethnic groups.

“I’m very grateful to the community members who shared their opinions and experiences. Their input—honest and often raw—was important for us to hear,” said WGTA member Joseph McManus, executive associate dean of Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Why Not Disarm Completely?

Although there was no broad agreement on arming within any individual group, it became clear that Tufts’ campuses have different safety needs. On the largely residential Medford/Somerville campus, about 70 percent of service calls result from students being locked out of their rooms—a situation that can be appropriately served by unarmed security professionals. On the Grafton campus, sworn police provide valued security for caregivers treating gravely ill animals whose owners may be under severe stress. Data showed Tufts campuses to be quite safe and use of force extremely rare, but the WGTA concluded that no campus is immune to situations in which an armed response may be needed to protect safety.

Throughout its deliberations, the WGTA considered fully disarming Tufts police but identified two significant drawbacks from a community perspective. First, many calls for on-campus service that are now managed by Tufts police would need to be managed instead by armed municipal police, who would be unfamiliar with Tufts’ policies and the Tufts community; Second, in such situations, Tufts would not be in a decision-making position. Tufts community members would instead be subject to municipal police policies and procedures, including those surrounding detainment and arrest. The WGTA found this to conflict with Tufts’ mission and values and not in the best interest of the university or its community members.

The Path to Consensus

The 14 WGTA members represented a microcosm of the divergent opinions and experiences found at the university as a whole. The keys to reaching an agreement on this complex, emotionally charged issue lay in hard work, honesty, willingness to learn, and a deliberate, open process.

That process, said Howard, enabled members “to see the information that we needed to understand the issue deeply, review that information, understand it, create an environment where we could take the time to ask and answer all the questions, share our interpretations, challenge each other’s thinking, and ultimately build towards consensus and recommendations.”

Also essential to the process was the acknowledgment of trauma experienced by community members in encounters with police on and off campus and as a result of widely reported violence against people of color nationwide.

“It was very moving for me to see how difficult the environment can be for someone who doesn’t look like me,” said WGTA member Robert Amato, professor of endodontics at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. “At the same time, I learned a lot about how the police operate and what they do. I think as we all learned more at our weekly meetings, our opinions changed bit by bit, with a little compromise here and there, as we gained understanding.”

Timing and Transparency

Tufts will transition to the new model over approximately 12 to 24 months, under the leadership of Executive Director of Public Safety Yolanda Smith. Smith, who joined Tufts in 2021, is credited with bringing transformative change to the Suffolk County (Massachusetts) Sheriff’s Department.

Individual campuses will address many aspects of implementation to reflect their varying needs, sizes, staffing levels, and hours of operations. Among the first visible changes, said Howard, will likely be increased use of unarmed campus security officers, attired in khaki pants and polo shirts, on the Medford/Somerville campus.

“There will be some growing pains, as we transition from a model that’s been in place for 40 or 50 years, but I think the commitment is there,” said Amato. “A close reading of our full report should give community members confidence. I ask our community to judge the change when it’s complete.”

WGTA members stress that the WGCSP made many recommendations regarding potential reforms and improvements to enhance overall safety and develop more constructive and trusting relationships among community members. The arming report addressed one specific issue and work is continuing on other fronts. “I think we have a good steppingstone to support students in new ways,” said WGTA member Allison Larmann, now in the final year of the Fletcher School’s residential master’s program in law and diplomacy.

new independent advisory board of students, faculty, and staff, whose creation was recommended by WGCSP to provide additional transparency and accountability for Tufts Public Safety, will be monitoring progress on the broad array of public safety enhancements envisioned for the university. The board will meet regularly with Smith and her team and provide an annual update to President Anthony Monaco.

“Yolanda Smith and her team have a big task ahead, but I think it’s a challenge they relish, and I think they’re going to do a great job,” said Amato.