- Leslie Sepuka
- Leslie Sepuka
Community Safety: Start with Respect and Dignity
UC San Diego has been engaged in the University of California systemwide effort to reimagine our approach to campus safety and security. Drawing on extensive input from students, faculty, staff, alumni and other stakeholders, the campus is moving toward a more data-driven, service-oriented, community centric approach.
In July, Gregory Murphy returned to UC San Diego as Assistant Police Chief and will serve as Interim Chief of Police as the campus recruits a new Chief of Police. We spoke to him about the culture shift underway, police accountability and how everyone has a role in supporting community safety.
Q. Welcome back to UC San Diego. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
A. I was born in West Virginia in the early ’60s, the son of a World War II veteran and coal miner, and we lived in a coal mining town (more commonly known as a hollow). I had nine siblings and we were all blessed with the gift of wise parents. My experience was formed from my upbringing, once again, early ’60s in Appalachia….
Our parents, essentially having been denied the opportunity for higher education, demanded nothing less than each of us (their children) to at least attempt higher education. My journey began at Marshall University but was a bumpy one that ultimately took a path through six years in the U.S. Air Force, and finally completing my bachelor’s degree in computer science.
Q. How did you make the transition to police work?
A. The beating of an unarmed Black motorist in Los Angeles named Rodney King changed my life and my profession. I almost remember the moment to the second. I was working on training for pilots and flight engineers for Hughes Training Inc. in Texas. On the news, Los Angeles was burning.
Growing up where I did, my experiences with law enforcement were based on the fact that I looked so different from anyone else around me. I was used to the attention of law enforcement, but this was Los Angeles—a much more diverse community.
Having served in the Air Force, I had come to understand that large organizations are driven by systems—policies and procedures—almost irrespective of particular individuals. As I watched, I thought about what led us to that moment, and wondered, if I were to join a large law enforcement organization, what would be my mission?
I traveled west and started the application process for the Los Angeles Police Department. When I sat for my first interview, I talked about how I thought I could have an impact with my understanding of data and computational processes. Programming is nothing more than another way to solve problems, and I knew data could be leveraged for effective management. I was hired and worked for Los Angeles Police Department for 10 years.
One of my last assignments for LAPD involved an early warning system for management that focused on officers’ involvement in use of force, pursuits, community complaints—in total, 13 subsystems that presented information to management on groups that were outside of a standard deviation. If the department could track the behavior, it could try to understand what was driving the behavior and get in front of it.
Q. When did you transition to higher education?
A. After my time in Los Angeles, I joined University of California as a Lieutenant at UC Davis before taking a position at the State of California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) in Sacramento. I have stayed in higher education ever since, including spending four years here at UC San Diego.
In 2020, while serving as Chief of Police at Cal State University, Northridge, I watched another city burn. This time, it was Minneapolis, after the murder of George Floyd. Our campus is not immune to this—we are all impacted by this lifetime of experience, the full spectrum of what we have all witnessed, lived through or heard.
Q. How do your experiences inform your approach to policing?
A. We must hold people accountable for actions within the constraints of the system we operate within. My professional background formed my service philosophy in law enforcement, which is a focus on a continuous cycle of prevention, intervention and investigation. Investigation brings justice as appropriate, but also helps improve prevention and intervention efforts. This continuous cycle is complemented by high community engagement. Through high community engagement—interactions, relationship, partnerships—we work together toward the same end. This is the influence I hope to bring to UC San Diego’s police department.
Q. Can you talk about UC San Diego’s implementation of the UC Community Safety Plan?
A. In August, shortly after I joined the UC San Diego Police Department as the Assistant Police Chief, University of California President Michael Drake shared the UC Community Safety Plan, a plan to transform the university’s culture, policies and practices to ensure that all members of the community feel welcomed, respected and protected from harm. Meaningful cultural change is always a heavy lift, but I am encouraged by early progress.
Q. What are some of the first steps?
A. From my work at POST, I knew that UC San Diego police took training seriously. We aggressively pursue training and invest in soft-skill training, but training is only part of it.
The community safety plan outlines a tiered response model, which will match calls for service with the appropriate response and responders. In support of this, University Safety Officials, who are not police officers, but unarmed full-time staff employees, work to ensure safety across campus. In addition, the police department is working to bring mental health experts to response calls at UC San Diego. We hope to learn from our Psychiatric Emergency Response Team pilot program in order to bring a more informed and resourced response to those circumstances.
To support accountability and independent oversight, our campus is moving toward accreditation from the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). This ensures our police department is aligned with best practices and provides an independent and ongoing audit and review function. It holds a police department accountable to best standards in serving a community. People choose a university because it is accredited. This is the same process—it shows rigor and display of what has been decided an institution should do.
The police department meets with a community advisory committee comprised of faculty, staff and students. One outgrowth from that committee we are excited about is the creation of a community safety resource center. Police will play a prominent role, but not the only role. It will be a full spectrum resource, providing a number of resources and services for the campus community.
The campus is also improving how it collects and shares data, and is working on a new data dashboard. We know there are biases in the world, and these issues are complex. That is where the influence of data can come in—at some point, the data tells a story that is richer than looking at an independent point.
Equally important is how we treat each other. If I start with respect and dignity in the department, that transitions into our interactions with the community. It is the keystone of a viable police department in any community—to provide service that is respectful and illustrates the dignity of people.
Q. How can campus community members get involved?
A. The campus police will continue to engage the campus community in order to learn what makes you feel safe or unsafe in order to consider what resources we can bring to our campus.
For example, UC San Diego Resource Management & Planning is working with the Office for Strategic Initiatives to administer a new survey in Winter Quarter 2022. It was created by Amy Lerman, a political scientist at UC Berkeley, the co-director of The People Lab and associate dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy. The survey has been administered at other UC campuses, and she recently provided a presentation to our Community Safety and Security Advisory Committee on the survey so that they could provide feedback.
I have an open-door policy. Call or email me. I am always happy to meet and be involved to ensure that all members of the community feel welcomed, respected and protected.
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