Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

Campus Policing Made Friendly

Campus Policing

PHOTO © PAUL REHG/COLUMBUS STATE COMMUNITY COLLEGE

These are challenging times for college and university police departments. On one hand you have very real and well-publicized threats to public safety. On the other you have just as real and well-publicized incidents of municipal police departments behaving badly. What does this dichotomy mean for students, faculty and staff that need protection and the college or university police who deliver it?

The threats that face the college population are well documented. They include sexual assault; which effects nearly one in four college women, according to a report released by the Association of American Universities. There is also binge drinking, which two out of three of the 60 percent of college students who drink engage in, according to the National Institute of Health. And then there is the active shooter, which between 2000 and 2013 killed 60 people and wounded 60 more at institutes of higher education, according to a study released by the FBI.

On the other side, there are no reliable statistics on how many people are affected by excessive use of police force, a fact noted by FBI Director James B. Comey in February 2015. Nonetheless, a spate of high-profile incidents has resulted in widespread protests and a Twitter movement with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. These incidents may make students — particularly minority students — less trusting of anyone in uniform, including campus police.

These problems are far-reaching, complicated and at odds with each other. Yet schools are coming up with solutions ranging from high-touch interactions, to use of social media, to K9 units. College Planning & Management spoke to representatives from three different campus police departments to find strategies that work.

Columbus State Community College

Four years ago, Sean Asbury, chief of police at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, OH, put his department’s focus on officer visibility. This targeted policing philosophy means that officers and staff integrate themselves into the population. “I want them to know the community and the community to know them,” he says.

Campus Policing

PHOTO COURTESY OF K-STATE POLICE DEPARTMENT

This means that the 26 sworn police officers and seven unarmed security officers remain a clear, visible and friendly presence. They can be seen in parking lots when students arrive at 7:00 a.m. They are present around the classroom buildings throughout the day. And they are recognizable, in their highly reflective uniforms, in the surrounding community.

Asbury also encourages the campus population to call his office any time they need help. And not just for obvious crime or safety problems. The department fields calls for backed-up sinks, a student locked out of a room or someone needing to jump-start his car. “Our role is to connect the dots and link people to the services they need,” says Asbury. “It’s another opportunity for us to make a positive connection.”

This comfort and familiarity with the campus police has already had positive outcomes. Asbury recounts a story from 2008. “A teacher reported that a student acted strangely after learning he missed too much class to sit for an exam,” he says. Police later caught the student heading for the classroom with a loaded gun and a backpack full of ammunition.

Columbus State is obviously doing something right. A recently released ranking of institutions with the best campus security, released by BestColleges.com (www.bestcolleges.com/features/bestcollege-campus-security), ranked the college as #1.

Kansas State University

Kansas State University is also among the top ten schools with the best campus safety for 2015, according to the BestColleges.com report. Major Don Stubbings of Kansas State explains how his police department uses technology to enhance high-touch engagement with students. The first one is a two-hour program that addresses distracted and impaired driving. Made possible by a $13,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation, students try to drive a specially altered golf cart in a safe, closed-off area while wearing goggles that mimic impairment or distraction.

Stubbings also realizes the power of social media when engaging the student population. “It started with NoShave November,” he says. “Officers were tweeting pictures of themselves engaging with students and through analytics we saw how many were being retweeted. It’s an incredibly powerful way to communicate.”

The university’s police department used that power to solve a vandalism case. They tweeted still pictures from a surveillance video and let the retweets take over. Within a few hours the offending students turned themselves in.

Campus Policing

PHOTO © THOMAS GRANING/OLE MISS COMMUNICATIONS

@OLEMISSPOLICE. Campus police departments are connecting with their student communities on the students’ own terms, from lively social media interactions to sharing beverages and conversation at “Coffee With a Cop” events, providing opportunities for relaxed, one-on-one interactions. The campus community is invited to ask questions, voice concerns or simply get to know their officers better.

For the most part, social media at Kansas State is a feel-good tool that shows the police department in a friendly light. For instance, the school hosted a Color Run where participants run a 5K while being doused with colored powder. Campus police working traffic points were high-fived and hugged until they were as colorful as the participants. The entire event was photographed and shared on social media.

“The bulk of our contacts are positive and service-oriented,” says Stubbings. To keep it that way, his department also runs trainings on what to expect during a traffic stop or other interaction with the police. “Some of our international students come from more militaristic countries,” he says. “Or they may have different cultural norms. We want to let this population know what our rules are and that the police are here to serve.”

University of Mississippi

Chief Tim Potts at the University of Mississippi also takes a preemptive approach with students. He runs programs with mock traffic stops and mock party checks that orient students on how officers act in these situations. “We let them experience what questions an officer would ask and why they ask them,” he says. “It’s a way to teach students how to be safe and what to expect.”

To further quantify expectations, the university has strict rules for on-campus parties held at fraternity houses. They include a dedicated group of sober observers (one observer per 30 guests), a wristband system for alcohol service, a guest list and a paid security guard that keeps people from moving to private areas of the house. “An officer visits before the party to make sure that everything is in place,” he says.

The school also had a K9 unit. The officer who ran that program moved on but Potts is working on getting a new unit, this time with two dogs. “It’s our most popular program. Everyone loves the dogs,” he says. “It’s great PR for us along with being a great force multiplier.”

Potts hopes to have a narcotic-sniffing dog and an explosives-detecting dog. “It’s not just our athletic venues that need protecting,” he explains. “Students leave backpacks around all the time and the closest bomb squad is over an hour away by car. Having our own dog would speed up dealing with suspicious packages.”

Potential students — and their parents — list safety along with class size, location and cost as important factors when choosing a school to attend. College and university public safety and police departments who are actively committed to cooperative, constructive and creative interaction with their campus communities improve not only the safety, but also the overall experience of higher education for their institutions.

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

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