Barnard Public Safety lacks updated and consistent guidelines for the execution of its duties, enforcement of new policies and existing rules, and interactions with non-college affiliated public, according to the findings of an external investigation into the office.
As a result, officers responding to incidents often rely heavily on prior work history, ranging from training through the New York Police Department to no formal law enforcement training, in performing duties on campus, the report detailed.
Barnard called for an external investigation into Public Safety’s procedures and policies following an incident in April during which six Public Safety officers pinned Alexander McNab, CC ’19, against a counter after he failed to show his Columbia ID upon entering Barnard’s campus. Videos of the confrontation gained national attention and spurred protests over Public Safety’s relationship with students of color.
Students across the board pushed for greater transparency regarding the office’s policies, pointing in particular to varied enforcement of a rule that mandates students show identification upon entering Barnard’s campus after 11 p.m. Barnard has since placed six officers involved in the incident on administrative leave.
The final 25-page document’s findings and recommendations, compiled by global security firm T&M Protection Resources, LLC, draw from the firm’s interviews with nine Barnard students, 19 members of Barnard Public Safety, and two employees present at the Milstein Center for Teaching and Learning where McNab was confronted. McNab declined to interview, citing legal counsel, according to the report.
In an email to Barnard students and faculty on Thursday, President Sian Beilock shared the report and outlined a number of updates to initiatives for campus safety, including clear postings of ID policies, a Barnard Community Safety Group to increase communication and review current policies, and a search for a new executive director of Public Safety and Emergency Management.
“The investigators’ findings demand serious attention, and we are acting promptly to make needed changes in the operations of Barnard Public Safety,” Beilock wrote.
“What we witnessed in videos of the April 11 confrontation was deeply troubling and antithetical to Barnard’s mission. Racial and other forms of bias — though often systematic and institutionalized — are unacceptable in our community,” the email continued.
Read our main takeaways from the report below:
1. Existing documentation for policies and procedures of Public Safety officers are largely outdated.
The report evaluated the contents of two binders of Barnard Public Safety rules and procedures, the first entitled “Manual of Operations and Rules of Procedure,” containing undated documents and documents dating back to 1971.
The second, titled “Barnard College Security Procedure Index,” similarly contains undated documents and general procedures.
Only the first binder included policies on challenging suspicious persons on campus, but did not include guidelines past surveillance and notifying a supervisor. Neither binder appeared to be formally updated, according to T&M’s report.
Further, the report outlines that a “patrol guide” was drafted in or around 2016, but was never implemented due to alleged interference from officers’ unions. In repeated instances, officers interviewed pointed to the robust unionized environment as hindrances to formal policies, but the report notes that it did not receive documentation to back the claim.
“A lack of written guidelines, policies, and training creates an environment in which each officer of BCPS responds or reacts dissimilarly,” the report states. “This lack of consistency in enforcement leads to a perception, if not a reality, of disparate treatment of individuals with whom BCPS interacts on campus.”
2. Policies and procedures for Public Safety officers fail to outline clear guidelines for the proper use of physical force or for interactions with non-Barnard affiliated public.
The report highlights significant gaps in the enforcement of procedures, significantly noting that there are no guidelines as to how an officer may use physical force to arrest or prevent a person from running away.
Though training for Public Safety officers, as mandated by the state of New York, informs officers of the right to use physical force, the report details that training does not include conditions under which force may be used, or details on how to de-escalate an encounter to prevent a physical altercation. T&M outlines that “appropriate training” includes levels of control, ranging from verbal tones to physical force, intended to show de-escalation techniques.
Public Safety training at Barnard includes no such guidelines.
When asked by T&M investigators how Public Safety would handle a trespasser onto Barnard’s campus who failed to comply with officers’ requests to show identification, another supervisor responded, “that’s the million dollar question.”
3. Officers present in Milstein immediately responded with physical force while failing to de-escalate the encounter, but were not motivated by race.
Interviews with officers involved in the McNab incident revealed that the confrontation began when an officer at the Barnard gates called a “10-13” code, recognized by the NYPD to mean he needed immediate assistance due to an “imminent and serious threat of physical injury,” after McNab did not respond to his requests to show identification.
Though the officer claimed that he had used the code “hundreds of times,” other officers stated that the code was seldom, if ever, used. The supervisor at the scene who initiated the physical confrontation with McNab said he had never heard a “10-13” transmitted in his three and a half years working at Barnard.
In an initial interview with T&M, the same supervisor claimed he put his hands on McNab to check for possible weapons “like a screwdriver.” The report concluded that no such check was performed by any Public Safety personnel.
4. Public Safety supervisors lack a clear system for disseminating updated policies. One officer reported hearing new guidelines through “word of mouth.”
The officer who called the “10-13” said he heard about the rule requiring identification at Barnard gates through “word of mouth.”
In an interview with T&M, a supervisor said that “Recap Reports” and roll call trainings are used to document some of the relevant updates and information for officers to perform their duties.
Other supervisors said that email is the primary means of communication, but that information is shared via an “event sheet of the day” and sometimes at roll call.
One said that a new policy is occasionally taped to a window in a guard booth.
5. Due to a lack of guidelines, officers often rely on former training and history—both of which vary significantly from person-to-person, ranging from decades in official law enforcement to no formal law enforcement training at all.
The supervisor who initially responded by placing his hands on McNab was also a retired NYC police lieutenant with more than 20 years of police experience. In interviews with T&M, he indicated that upon hearing the transmission of the “10-13” code, he “reflexively defaulted to his prior police training and experience,” believing that the officer who transmitted the code was in grave and immediate physical danger.
In contrast, the officer who transmitted the code had no prior law enforcement experience, stating that he simply required assistance.
The report cited the escalation of officers’ physical confrontation of McNab as a consequence of the lack of training and guidelines within Barnard’s own policies, particularly leading to the “10-13” call itself.
“Under the actual circumstances encountered by BCPS, this response was excessive and inconsistent with best practices for a campus security department,” it read.