The Temple University Police Department concluded a self-evaluation of its practices and policies in May, finding a need to improve the department’s equipment, transparency with the community and mental health training.
“It was all about looking at what we could do in the moment, but also at what policies we could address moving forward,” said Charles Leone, executive director of Campus Safety Services.
TUPD evaluated itself using former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing final report, which Temple considers the gold standard of guidelines for modern policing, said Joe Garcia, deputy chief of administration.
“We really had some heart-to-heart conversations about what the standard is according to the report and what we were actually doing,” Garcia said.
TUPD’s self-evaluation was one of eight actions Temple took in its anti-racism initiative last September, which aimed to improve anti-racism education and programming at the university, The Temple News reported. The initiative came due to several fatal encounters with police officers that sparked nationwide calls for police accountability, Leone said.
“We at Temple University pride ourselves as being the public university of the City of Philadelphia, we embrace our community and we want our campus policing to do the same,” said Stephen Orbanek, a spokesperson for the university, in response to the department’s self-evaluation.
Along with Garcia and Leone, the committee consisted of Inspector Jeffrey Chapman, Captain Enoch McCoy, Lieutenant Russell Moody, Captain Barry McFadden, Deputy Chief of Operations Denise Wilhelm and Captain of the Investigations Unit Edward Woltemate. The committee met weekly to discuss what modifications could be made to TUPD’s existing policies to reflect the 21st Century Task Force’s recommendations, Garcia said.
Valerie Harrison, vice president of public affairs for the university, suggested the department improve its community policing after hearing the findings of the self-evaluation.
“The community needs to have a voice,” Harrison said. “We must do better at canvassing the community and hearing from the community. There is a commitment to broaden the perspective of the officers so that the kids in the community know the officers.”
Local residents were not included in the TUPD’s self-evaluation committee.
Temple administrators also encouraged the department to evaluate their behavioral training, specifically in regards to implicit biases and the department’s reaction to changing community needs, Harrison said.
“The Temple Police Department can improve in their behavioral training, helping us to get underneath the actions and behavior of police,” Harrison said. “Is it racism? Is it the pictures they see? We need to always be open to change.”
The department agrees there is room for improvement in its community policing, specifically in its awareness of community needs like schooling and the safety of neighborhood youth, Garcia said.
“We need to do better at tapping into certain groups and things,” Garcia said. “Not too far from here is a church for those that are hearing impaired. I would like to know how to communicate with them and how they can train us.”
Here are some of the findings of the self-evaluation.
The killing of Walter Wallace Jr. — a 27-year-old Black man who police fatally shot in front of his West Philadelphia home as he experienced a mental health crisis in October 2020, WHYY reported. — led to calls for reform on how local police officers responded to mental health-related incidents.
“The question became how do we deescalate situations involving people with mental health issues without racial bias or impulse?” Harrison said.
Upon hiring, TUPD requires all its officers to take basic training on psychological awareness. The training puts officers in the perspective of those struggling with mental-health-related issues, Leone said.
“We have training where we have to wear headphones and goggles that simulate what it’s like to have voices in your head and to simulate the variety of things that go on in the mind,” said Leone. “I had no idea what it was like, it was very insightful.”
TUPD also requires all recruits to complete the Crisis Intervention Team training from the Philadelphia Police Department, which emphasizes training in violence prevention, community needs and de-escalation, Leone said.
As of Sept. 1, most TUPD officers have completed CIT training, Leone said.
“Officers leave and new one’s get hired, but we are pretty damn close to all of us being trained. I would say roughly 90% are trained in it,” Leone said.
TUPD evaluated the wellness and safety of its own officers in accordance with the 21st Century Task Force’s final report, which recommends shortening shift lengths to less than 12 hours and establishing mental health monitoring by trained psychologists.
TUPD also requires potential new hires to have their mental health assessed by a local psychologist. The psychologist discusses the assessments with TUPD’s human resources department before the department makes a final hiring decision, Leone said.
“We are seeking to improve the perception and mental health of our officers,” Garcia said.
TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
The 21st Century Task Force’s final report recommends police departments prioritize community accountability in their policies, like by using community members to monitor police practices, social media and an up-to-date web presence to remain transparent about police updates, Leone said.
To address this recommendation, TUPD will develop training that includes community members, who will provide input about community needs, Leone said.
“We really need to be transparent on what we are doing here,” Garcia said. “We need the community to have a voice and we need to be objective in what we are doing.”
TUPD is also creating an online tip line for people to report officer misconduct, either anonymously or with contact information, Leone said.
The department plans to use social media and other online communication methods to keep the community updated on its developments, like by sharing information about the department’s programs on Twitter and Instagram, Leone said.
This year, TUPD equipped their officers with Axon body cameras, the same cameras used by the Philadelphia Police Department.
During an incident, an officer can tap the body cameras to start recording. The body camera records the previous 30 seconds of footage before the officer pushes on the camera. This helps to keep officers accountable in their recording, Leone said.
Officers are not required to always have their cameras on to keep from capturing footage the department deems unnecessary, like when driving, Leone said.
All camera footage from the body worn cameras is uploaded to Axon’s cloud-based storage program and is kept for a minimum of 75 days. After the 75 days, the department’s body camera coordinator categorizes the footage and can delete footage, Leone said.
TUPD also purchased additional tasers for its officers that turn on the officer’s body camera whenever it is pulled from its holster, Leone said.
The department will present the results of the self-evaluation to the public once the findings are reviewed by the university’s addressing racism committee, led by Valerie Harrison, Leone said.
Upon initial review, the committee was happy with the measures found in the department’s self-evaluation but stressed a constant need for community accountability, Harrison said.
“The opinion of our students and of the broader Temple community is that these measures are good and beneficial,” Harrison said. “These are measures that push the police to be more accountable which is something we can always strive for.”
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