SDSU changes policy on suspect race descriptions

San Diego State University informed students on Monday about a policy that will forbid its police department from using the race of crime suspects, “unless there is enough identifiable information” for descriptions sent through the university alert system.

This change is one of three in the policy titled, “San Diego State University Community Safety Notification Suspect Description Reporting Policy.” SDSU alerted students of the updates in an email sent by SDSU Chief of Police Josh Mays and SDSU Associate Vice President for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Luke Wood, which Campus Reform obtained. 

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“For the last several years, there have been ongoing conversations about the ways that university crime alerts may portray certain communities in a criminalized fashion,” Mays and Wood said. “In particular, concerns have been expressed by faculty, staff, and students about vague warnings that do not provide an extensive description of suspects.”

Mays and Wood explained that when SDSU police released a description of suspects reading “tall, thin Black male adults in their early 20s wearing hooded sweatshirts,” faculty and staff members complained that the description was too vague.

“The race of the suspect will not be released unless there is enough identifiable information to distinguish the suspect from our students, faculty, and staff of color,” the two administrators continued. 

Students of color make up 53 percent of SDSU’s student body, according to the university.

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The SDSU police chief and associate vice president for faculty diversity and inclusion also noted that the school would withhold text message notifications pertaining to suspects if only the race and gender are known. 

Mays and Wood announced a third and final change to the policy, which would entail analysis of the policy with regard to the Clery Act, which requires that schools receiving federal financial aid keep campus crime data and security details, as well as make this information transparent. The California school administrators said this investigation would lend the institution insight into whether or not the campus culture “promote[d] both the physical and emotional safety of all members of the SDSU campus community.”

SDSU junior Alex Mazzara expressed discontent with the policies when speaking with Campus Reform.

“These types of policies actually make communities less safe. It is not racist to accurately describe a wanted criminal suspect during an investigation, sadly our school has decided otherwise,” Mazzara told Campus Reform. “On another note, I was very troubled to see the clear inconsistency from the school regarding the disclosure of the race of suspects.”

“According to the new policy ‘the race of the suspect will not be released unless there is enough identifiable information to distinguish the suspect from our students, faculty, and staff of color,’” the student said. "Notice the last two words - ‘of color.’” 

‘Apparently, if there is a white suspect, they will have no problem disclosing race, as this would clearly distinguish the suspect from people of color on campus. This is completely hypocritical and discriminatory as they are treating people differently based on the color of their skin,” Mazzara said.

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SDSU College Republicans President Madison Marks-Noble told Campus Reform that she thought that the university’s email was “trying to be politically correct at the cost of our safety.” 

Campus Reform reached out to SDSU, the school’s police department, and the CIA for comment on the policy changes, but received no comment in time for press. The FBI declined to comment. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Zach_Petrizzo