Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Campus police and students need to create rapport

Published: September 12, 2014
Section: Opinions

Last week, the Brandeis community united at Chapel’s pond to commemorate the violence in Ferguson, MO, over the shooting of Michael Brown. While I regret not being able to attend, these types of events, where the whole community comes together in observance of a tragedy that stretches beyond our campus, is really what makes Brandeis Brandeis. Knowing that the entire school took the time to remember and reflect on the events in Missouri last month forces everyone to take a step back and contemplate why the protests and violence occurred in the first place. Here at Brandeis, we wouldn’t be true citizens if we didn’t care to try and understand the issue at play.

The events in Ferguson, as well as the numerous other instances of police brutality in response to protests, such as the Rodney King Riots of 1992 or the Birmingham Riots in 1963, all derive from the same problem. The local police force, which is hired to protect and serve the community, has no connection with the actual members of the community it is supposed to be serving. The police forces in these situations create the “us vs. them” mentality when handling protests and riots. And as showcased in Ferguson, violence can escalate to a point of utter chaos.

Beyond preventing the original act that caused the protests from occurring, the way to stop these conflicts from arising is for there to be a sense of mutual respect between the police force and the community. For this to be created, there needs to be some form of community activity between the two and interaction beyond the regular duties of a police force. There needs to be some sort of social mixer where the citizens can meet and talk to the local police force—not just about problems in the community but just problems in general. Of course, some restraint needs to be exercised (so that the police officers do not get too attached to someone they might have to arrest in the future), but a general level of respect from both sides would go a long way in preventing these events from occurring. The police force would then not be so quick to judge a protest as a potential riot, and the citizens would not be so quick to assume foul play on behalf of the officers doing their job.

Yet all too often, there is no desire for a relationship between the police and the residents in a town or city. Even in my hometown, the only cops people knew were the DARE officers who would spend most of their time in the high school working with students. The rest of the members of the force were simply seen as cops to stay away from. And the same affiliation appears to occur here at Brandeis. The campus police force does not have much contact with students beyond quieting down loud parties or helping students get back into their locked dorm rooms. Sometimes they are seen helping out with crowd control at events or directing traffic. While I am sure they are simply doing what their job description states, I do feel that something more can certainly be done. The officers can make more effort and spend more time to get to know the student body, the people they are hired to serve and protect.

While I do not know the exact duties of a police officer here at Brandeis and whether or not they would have time to socialize with students in order to get to know them better, more action can still be taken to familiarize the students with the police force. Putting a list of names and perhaps a short bio on the public safety webpage would go a long way to help students know who is a member of the police force. And then to put a face to the name by including a picture would allow students to look beyond the badge and notice an actual person trying to do their job to the best of their abilities.

Just as professors can be pretty intimidating to walk up to and introduce yourself to, the same is true of police officers. The university does a really great job of trying to bridge the gap between students and faculty, as professors are required to hold office hours regularly. There are even other events where students are invited to meet their professors in a setting other than the classroom. Events like those would be just as useful in introducing the students to the campus police. Maybe the events would not be as frequent, and a police officer would not hold office hours for students to simply sit down and talk, but just a mixer type of event once a semester (with free food of course) would allow students to create a rapport with the police force, and vice versa.

Of course, as mentioned before, the police officers would have to remain professional and not develop a relationship with a student that would interfere with their judgement when doing their work. The students would have to recognize that no preferential treatment will be given, even if they are on a first-name basis with an officer. Beyond this, a relationship between the police and the students on campus would help make this school a much friendlier place, and might even prevent a future miscommunication from escalating into a bigger issue.

I do not expect anything to happen on this campus like what occurred in Ferguson. The police force there obviously went too far and most likely broke a few laws in the process; events like that do not happen all the time. And I would never think there would be a solitary instance of police brutality on campus, either. Yet I do know it is our responsibility as an institution dedicated to social justice and as a community to learn from the mistakes in Ferguson, one of them being a disconnect between the police and the community. Brandeis can be proactive here and create a program where the police and the students interact and get to know each other. Or the school can wait until problems arise and the victims make it so the administration is forced to react.