Finally, following years of reticence, the Emory Police Department (EPD) has released its use-of-force statistics of encounters with students on and around campus from the past five years. Yet the Emory community deserves more than the bumper sticker numbers it was provided. EPD must commit to full transparency by releasing more detailed data on the composition of its budget and its record of stops and searches by demographic.
We recognize EPD’s effort to increase transparency, though initial and limited, as a step in the right direction. Since 2015, the department has made 167,276 total contacts with individuals on or around campus, and in only 24 such instances did officers threaten or use force. Never in EPD’s history, moreover, has an officer caused death or bodily injury with a firearm. We are cautiously optimistic of EPD’s conduct for those reasons, but given widespread discrimination and violence perpetuated by police forces nationwide, students deserve a more detailed picture, beginning with data on stops and searches broken down by demographic and the department’s budget.
The available data reveals possible discrimination, but more information is necessary to ascertain the existence of a trend. Of the 24 instances over the past five years in which officers threatened or used force, 16 involved “less-lethal” force, which is when an officer draws or points a taser or firearm at an individual. Ten of those 16 instances involved Black men, while just five white men could say the same. Although this disparity is stark, the exceedingly small sample size at hand prevents us from drawing a concrete conclusion regarding the presence of systemic racism in EPD. As such, EPD must provide the Emory community with further data immediately. Only then will we be able to hold the department accountable for its practices.
When the Wheel obtained these statistics, the department remained ambivalent toward releasing other pivotal information. When the Wheel requested additional data on the department’s finances, Vice President of Academic Communications Nancy Seideman wrote it was “not in their practice to provide department budget information.” While the University said it plans to speak with an advisory group later this semester where EPD’s budget will be further discussed, uncertainty over the forum’s format, structure, time frame or goals remains. These steps are lackluster at best, and they reveal a strong propensity to withhold pertinent information from the Emory community.
Given the volume of calls to defund EPD, the department must go a step further and directly release their budget. We deserve to know where the department spends the University’s money and how alternative services to policing could use those resources to better serve the Emory community. The responsibility thus falls both on the University and the department’s leadership to release information about the size of their budget and its allocation. Without that information, students will remain ill-informed and continue to distrust EPD.
In recent months, students have expressed their unease with vigor. In July, the Coalition of Black Organizations and Clubs demanded the University take several steps to address racism, including disarming and defunding EPD and reallocating funding toward crisis-prepared professionals. Black students’ wariness of EPD is more than warranted; Emory NAACP Political Action Committee Chair Ronald Poole (23C) said he believes Black students at Emory are disproportionately profiled and surveilled by the police, thus disrupting their experience at Emory. Young Democrats of Emory Vice President Eden Yonas (22C) noted that it’s difficult to tell if Black students are disproportionately profiled without complete public data on EPD stops and searches, which adds to their distrust. Clearly, public data must be made available for student well-being and safety. We have waited too long for the University and EPD alike to respond to our demands; while EPD has done the bare minimum, failing to release more information will only further compound the community’s incredulity.
Black students’ distrust of EPD is more than justified, and deserves serious consideration. Black Americans are disproportionately stopped and searched by police, indicating clear systemic racism in policing. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and so many more throughout U.S. history underscore our criminal justice system’s profound injustice. Black students are justified in whatever fear or mistrust they may feel toward police presence on our campus, and it is EPD’s duty to make them feel safe. Releasing additional data is the very least they can do; students should be able to assess for themselves whether EPD is, in fact, discriminatory and to call for whatever changes they deem necessary.
Without releasing full information regarding its contacts with community members, EPD has neglected its commitment to keeping Emory safe. They are on campus to protect students and keep us safe, yet keeping their information from the Emory community does the opposite. The situation is dire; we implore EPD to act immediately and make its data available to the public now.
If EPD has nothing to hide, then the department should have no problem releasing further information. We’re waiting.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Brammhi Balarajan, Jake Busch, Meredith McKelvey and Ben Thomas.