Oversensitivity to Bias Detracts from Effective Policing


Ryan Wolfe

Years before the tragic shooting outside of a Delta Sigma Theta party two weeks ago, the Office of Campus Life made policy choices that handcuffed the Wake Forest University Police Department’s ability to proactively police on our campus.

In January 2014, a semester before the seniors graduating in May arrived on campus, a Kappa Alpha Psi party was shut down by the Wake Forest and Winston-Salem Police Departments. Student activists organized a town hall where they accused the police of having racist attitudes towards minority students and policing IFC and Panhellenic Council events differently than National Panhellenic Council (NPHC) events solely due to the racial differences in the organizations.

The administration responded by commissioning the Williams-Moss Report to investigate the claims made by minority students that the police were biased against them. The report found that none of the students’ allegations rose to the level of actual racial bias, but there were some incidents of insensitivity. The report also found that the differences in the policing of NPHC and IFC organizations was explained by non-racial factors.

Despite these findings, Wake Forest Vice President for Campus Life Penny Rue pursued policies that created a chilling effect on policing and changed how the police interacted with NPHC parties. Almost all WFUPD officers were forced to undergo unconscious bias trainings, which are based on the dubious science of implicit bias testing and have been shown to have little efficacy in creating a more diverse workforce. The Police Accountability Task Force, led by law professor and Associate Provost Kami Chavis, was also created to help oversee these trainings and increase the diversity of the department. Furthermore, the social event management policies were changed in an attempt to decrease risk while decreasing the amount of armed police at NPHC events.

These actions made it clear that the current adminstration thinks it is more important to ensure that the WFU Police Department is not accused of being racist than to ensure our campus is safe. Those two goals are not mutually exclusive and can be accomplished by improving relations with police and students. If you scan press releases over the past several years from the university involving policing, you won’t find any articles about how Wake Forest is encouraging proactive policing to stop crimes before they happen. You’ll only see alerts about recent crimes and reports about how we are stopping our police from being racist.

The incident from a few weeks ago should be a wake-up call to the Office of Campus Life. The Wake Forest Police Department’s job is not to be the most diverse and inclusive department on our campus, their job is to keep Wake Forest students, faculty, staff and visitors safe from the dangers that lurk outside our walls. Indeed, instead of criticizing every police action through a critical theory lens, Wake Forest must let the police do their job.

*A previous version of this article in which it was stated that the LGBTQ Center Director, rather than Associate Provost Kami Chavis, was the chair of the Police Accountability Task Force was printed on February 1. This was error.