President Watkins Publicly Addresses Student Concerns on Campus Safety

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President Watkins Publicly Addresses Student Concerns on Campus Safety

By Delaney Sheppard

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Early last week, President Ruth Watkins conducted her monthly report to the University of Utah’s Academic Senate. Her address came shortly after the University Police Department announced the departure of their spokesman, Dan Metcalf, who will be leaving the department after only six months on the job. Metcalf believed that after Police Chief Dale Brophy’s resignation, announced a month before his own, it was best for him to leave as well.

After delivering her formal address, Watkins received various questions regarding the dismissal of Detective Kayla Dallof and the written warning given to officer Miguel Deras. Both were involved in Lauren McCluskey’s case last October, and both were named in Jill and Mathew McCluskey’s lawsuit against the U for allegedly mishandling the case.. Watkins chose to not speak about specific cases pertaining the UPD staff and said, “Of course, this is not at all an appropriate forum for me to talk about individual personnel cases and some of the nuances of what was different between case A and case B.”

Since the mismanagement of Lauren McCluskey’s case last year, the UPD has received mass criticism. The U decided to not discipline any of the officers or detectives involved in the case and instated a “zero-tolerance” policy for future cases. Both Dallof and Deras have since mishandled similar cases in the department, which resulted in the removal of Dallof and a written warning to Deras.

“The zero-tolerance approach applies not just to public safety, but to all areas of campus that have a role in student and campus safety, including housing and entities that play a role of the behavioral intervention team,” said Christopher Nelson, Communications Director at the U. “Lauren’s death served as a transformational moment on campus and has resulted in significant changes not only in the Department of Public Safety but across campus,” Nelson said.

Although many view the zero-tolerance policy is a step forward, some students across campus are unsatisfied and confused as to why the officers involved in McCluskey’s case were not disciplined in the first place — and why Officer Deras was given only a written warning after mishandling another case. Others wonder why a life had to be lost for a “transformational moment” to occur on campus safety protocols.

Student senator Devon Cantwell challenged the disciplinary decisions of Dallof and Deras during Watkins’ forum and said, “I’d like to hear why Officer Deras has been retained and why his failure to act properly in the second case has not prompted termination.” Several in attendance agreed with Cantwell’s question, but Watkins declined to answer this question in public.

Students and staff alike are both curious and frustrated by the elusive remarks given on behalf of the UPD since McCluskey’s death last year. Although the campus has been making strides to provide for higher safety measures and training on campus, there are still pressing concerns on the accountability and capability of the UPD. After the departures of both Brophy and Metcalf,  the department appears to be in disarray, and questions of the police’s competence still loom for many members of the campus community.

For inquiries and more information on President Watkins’ address, please visit her page at the U’s website.

 

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@delaneyshepp

In an earlier version of this article, Devon Cantwell’s name was spelled incorrectly. We regret the error.