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Newly launched institute at USC Price takes a holistic approach to public safety

The Safe Communities Institute strives to reflect the challenges that organizations face in an interconnected world

LBPD Chief Robert Luna
Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, left, chats with retired LAPD Lt. Rick DiMartino. (Photo/Tom Queally)

The USC Price School of Public Policy has launched the Safe Communities Institute, bringing together leaders in public safety for a multidisciplinary training and educational program.

“In the 21st century, public safety is no longer just a matter of the police,” USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott said at a celebration for the institute on Aug. 13. “It is a collective-action problem that we must work on together.”

The institute is a revitalization of the Delinquency Control Institute (DCI), which was founded at USC in 1946 as a training program for law enforcement. It ran until 2010, when the process was begun to revamp the program to better reflect the challenges that communities face in an interconnected world.

“The launch of the Safe Communities Institute comes at a hugely important juncture in our nation’s history,” Knott added. “It is a time of fractured societal relations but also a time of great opportunity to do something about it. Through SCI, we have the expertise, the resources, the passion and the commitment to make a meaningful and positive impact on this issue.”

Public safety stakeholders

In addition to local law enforcement leaders, SCI will involve professionals from the fire department, highway patrol, homeland security, public health, corrections, probation, transit, mental health, school police and other organizations to create a comprehensive approach to public safety.

Serving as director of the institute is Frank Quiambao, who has a decade of experience in homeland security at the state and federal level, including at the California Emergency Management Agency, as well as 32 years in higher education.

We want to change the way people think to be more holistic and collaborative.

Frank Quiambao

“The idea is to take all these practitioners who don’t normally work together and put them in the same room to get a global picture of what is going on in public safety,” Quiambao said. “To our knowledge, no organization does anything like this in bringing together the different groups that make a community safe. We want to change the way people think to be more holistic and collaborative.”

How to build trust

One year after the civil disorder in Ferguson, Mo., which captured the national political dialogue, it is more important than ever to have an institute that brings public safety officials and members of the community together to build trust, according to Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna.

“The complexities of our profession right now are enormous,” Luna said. “I can’t think of a time where there has been more scrutiny on law enforcement as there has this past year. The demands, accountability and expectations are higher than they have ever been.

“This is where this program comes in. In this day and age, if we’re not collaborative with each other, our law enforcement partners, our fire department partners, other government agencies, private partners and the most important asset we have — our communities — it’s going to be very tough to solve some of these challenges we face.”

Luna, a 1997 graduate of DCI who credits the program with putting him on the career path to become police chief in Long Beach, joins Knott on SCI’s advisory committee — a distinguished group that includes chiefs and department heads of numerous public agencies in the greater Los Angeles area and beyond.

“I’m proud to be part of this committee, a powerhouse group of people with hundreds of years of combined experience,” Luna said at the celebration. “I can guarantee you couldn’t find a better group of people more committed to making this program the best it can be. From the committee members to USC, thank you for being so forward-thinking in doing this with us together.”

Advisory committee member Marvin Southard, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, is grateful for the institute’s recognition that public safety encompasses more than law enforcement alone.

“On the mental health side, we’re trying as much as possible to get to the root of causes rather than only concentrating on the bad effects when they happen,” Southard said. “By using the Safe Communities Institute to strengthen and build relationships, both the law enforcement and treatment sides will be better off, resulting in communities that will be safer and healthier.”

Day-to-day operations

Juan Noguera will serve as project specialist for the institute, helping Quiambao to administer the day-to-day operations of the program. Research will be another focus of SCI, with Erroll Southers moving over from the USC Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events to take the position of director for Homegrown Violent Extremism (HVE) Studies, an issue he worked on for his USC Price doctoral thesis and for a field study on foreign fighters at CREATE.

Kimberly Unland

Kimberly Unland, right, of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, will be part of SCI’s first class this fall. (Photo/Tom Queally)

“It’s critical going forward for HVE research to be housed in an institute whose mission is about community engagement because the one thing we do know is that reducing the risk of recruitment, radicalization and potential action only happens at the community and family level,” Southers said.

Twenty-two students will take part in SCI’s first training program for mid-level officials and officers this fall, with instructors and civic-matter experts discussing such issues as cybercrime, human trafficking, infrastructure protection, civil liberties and community engagement — with a special focus on how leadership and ethics apply in each case — through 80 hours spread over two days a month. Each student was selected by his or her department chief or director.

“I’m excited about this program because I strongly believe that we as public safety leaders need to have conversations to understand and become better with our society and public safety, especially today,” said Kimberly Unland, a lieutenant at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who will be in the first class. “I challenge all my fellow students that we will go back and share these experiences … so we can become bigger, stronger, collaborate and become a more united community.”

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Newly launched institute at USC Price takes a holistic approach to public safety

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