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Staff Snapshot: Jody Stiger, safety expert and foodie

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Jody Stiger

“Something that President Drake said has stayed with me: ‘People must be safe and feel safe,’” says Jody Stiger, systemwide director of community safety for the University of California. “I think we all take for granted that we are safe in some situations. But if we don’t feel safe, that changes everything. We can’t focus, we can’t get things done and we ultimately don’t want to be there.”

Building alliances for a safer university

Jody is charged with overseeing the implementation of the UC Community Safety Plan (CSP), a blueprint for “transforming UC’s culture, policies and practices to ensure that all members of the community feel welcomed, respected and protected from harm.”

At the heart of the CSP is a commitment to flexibility in incorporating different perspectives of what it means for the UC community to be a safe and welcoming place for all.

“There’s a misperception that the CSP is a rule book handed down by the Office of the President to dictate what campuses can and cannot do,” Jody says. “In reality, it is a compilation of recommended best practices that can be incorporated in whatever way makes the most sense for each location and community. From a systemwide perspective, our goal is to implement the plan to serve each campus in a thoughtful, comprehensive way that helps them overcome local challenges while better connecting their community- and public-safety functions. My role is to meet with communities at each location to help them understand how they can incorporate best practices in community safety in a way that works with their unique challenges, opportunities and structure. The plan is also a living document — we’ve always intended to update it as we go to better reflect new ways of thinking as our understanding evolves.”

A key component of Jody’s role is facilitating collaboration between campus safety offices at various UC locations. When he learned that there was a systemwide community of practice for responding to behavioral health crises, in which locations were meeting to engage with one another and share best practices, he worked to create similar groups across other areas of community safety.

One new systemwide coalition focuses on policy review —evaluating and updating existing rules to remove outdated regulations and ensure policies reflect current best practices. Another unites student affairs and campus safety staff, on academic campuses and at the medical centers, for training around responding to on-campus conflicts and protests. Student affairs staff, who are often at the front lines of such situations, are receiving training on how to implement de-escalation techniques and the best ways to coordinate with campus police departments, when needed, to ensure student and staff safety.

Jody also regularly meets with students at all UC locations, creating dialogues around the CSP to ensure its goals make sense to them and to allow them to share their feedback and perspectives.

“When I meet with students, I emphasize that law enforcement officers are there to protect the campus community and to serve as guardians, not adversaries,” Jody says. “I understand what it’s like to be overpoliced. I grew up in South LA, in a community that was overpoliced. I understand the tension and trauma people bring from those experiences. But policing on a university campus is so different. The officers we hire to protect our campus communities are people we really want there, and who want to be there themselves. Many of our officers are from the local community or alumni of the university. They have a vested personal interest in protecting the campus, the reputation of the campus and their community. It’s a very different mindset.”

He adds, “Integrating the CSP isn’t ever going to be a seamless process. We’re going to have some difficult conversations and we are probably going to experience some failures. But at the end of the day, we have an opportunity to be a model for the rest of the country when it comes to reimagining policing and looking at safety from a community-focused, holistic perspective.”

A career devoted to protection and service

Jody knows a lot about safety — real safety, perceived safety and its opposite. In perhaps his most high-profile role before UC, Jody served as the expert witness on the use of excessive force for the state of Minnesota in the trial of Minneapolis Police Officer Derick Chauvin for the horrific murder of African-American citizen George Floyd. The brutality of Chauvin’s crime and his blatant disregard for human life shocked the nation and renewed calls around the world for greater police accountability and the elimination of systemic racism. In the face of unprecedented media attention, Jody was steeled by his steady understanding of the law and deep conviction of what good policing looks like.

“While I prepared to give my testimony, I was completely focused on doing the best job I could and ensuring that I would explain excessive force in a way that would make sense to the jury. I didn’t process the true magnitude and historic nature of what I was taking part in until the day before, when I flew to Minneapolis,” he recalls. Those who watched Jody’s compelling testimony would have been surprised to learn that this was his first experience serving as an expert witness. His poised, articulate evaluation of how Chauvin and his fellow officers’ actions led to Mr. Floyd’s murder was a key component in Chauvin’s eventual guilty plea and subsequent sentencing to more than 20 years in federal prison.

In some ways, Jody had been working towards this high-profile assignment throughout his career. A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, he came to UC following nearly three decades of service with the Los Angeles Police Department. LAPD, which can trace its roots to California’s 1850 entrance into statehood, is the third-largest police force in the U.S. and, due to the wealth and celebrity of many of its constituents, one of the best known.

Throughout his early career, Jody explored the array of LAPD’s specialization opportunities, pursuing many types of positions that allowed him to learn about policing from a variety of viewpoints and approaches. He partnered closely with businesses, government leaders and members of the general public, building relationships and strengthening ties between officers and the communities they served. He passed his knowledge on to the next generation of officers, training more than 3,000 as an instructor in the LAPD Police Academy. He served for several years as president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, representing the interests of African-American LAPD employees and finding synergies with other employee identity groups. And, he began sharing his knowledge of law enforcement best practices with police leadership nationwide, as an oft-requested speaker for policing conferences.

Today, Jody’s role at UC is the culmination of his studied and real-world experiences. He has a deep understanding of what law enforcement can achieve at its highest aims, as well as a humble acknowledgment of the chaos and disruption that can ensue if officers or leadership lose sight of the mission to protect and serve. At the helm of UC’s Community Safety Plan, he is a solid presence within whose hands all stakeholders — students, staff, faculty, alumni and the general public alike — will find an empathetic ally with the proven skills to lead.

Meet Jody

Name: Jody K. Stiger

Title: Systemwide Director of Community Safety

Department/Unit: UC Operations

Location: Office of the President

When did you start working for UC? July 2022

In five words or less, how would you describe your role at UC? Challenging, exciting, refreshing, frustrating and optimistic

Why do you love working for UC? The people, and especially the diversity of the people who I have an opportunity to interact with. I come from law enforcement, which is a very male-dominated career path. UC is the most diversified workforce I’ve ever been a part of. It’s really refreshing to be surrounded by so many different people from a variety of backgrounds with distinct perspectives on every situation.

What’s something people don’t know about you? I’m a foodie and amateur cook. My dream is to attend culinary school when I retire. I love going to restaurants and tasting different types of foods, then coming home and recreating them. My favorite is New Orleans-style Creole cuisine — the flavors are amazing!

Who’s your dream dinner guest (living or dead) and why? I’m sure this answer would change for me based on when you asked, but recently, I’ve been revisiting my fascination with the work of James Baldwin. His intellect was incredible, and the way he was able to write about and describe the things he saw in a way that has resonated with so many people is amazing.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? Choose a career path that you enjoy rather than determining your work based on money; the money will come. I’ve always followed this advice. At the LAPD, my highest rank was sergeant. People were always surprised that I didn’t move to a higher rank, but that didn’t appeal to me. I loved my work and having the flexibility to try a variety of units; I was always learning new things. I chose this path for my almost 30-year career there and I was really happy. I think that people who only focus on making more money tend to find themselves fairly miserable.

Editor’s note: Visit ucop.edu to learn more about the UC Community Safety Plan, watch a video on the CSP with President Drake and read more about Jody

 

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