Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ode to the Campus Police

There are many campus departments deserving of praise, and many that work silently toward enhancing the well-being of campus communities without receiving a shred of positive attention.  The campus police department is one of these.

College counseling centers often work very closely with the police, especially in the area of crisis intervention services and various teams whose purpose is to prevent and respond to disruption and violence on campus.  Collaborations such as these were once infrequent but soared after the Virginia Tech tragedy and statutes requiring them were developed in that state.  A great many institutions have adopted collaborative models and, as of this writing, at least two others states have either adopted similar legislation or are considering it.

And so it is that mental health and campus safety professionals work arm in arm, many times in the wee hours of the day, attending to critical student needs.  Many stakeholders are unaware of the fine-tuned responsiveness of campus police departments.  In this area of their work, they are not just certified law enforcement personnel with investigative and arrest authority, though they are certainly that as well; they are supportive educators providing students with valuable life lessons.  Beyond consequences for negative behavior, often delineated in institutional codes of student conduct, officers are a living example of institutional care for the student and community.  Through their actions one may experience powerful messages, such as: "we are paying attention to you", "we will respond to you", and "we will go to great lengths to see to your safety and the safety of others".  This level of responsiveness is many times not available in municipal police departments, simply because the missions are so decidedly different.

A campus police officer may, for example, conduct welfare checks on individuals suspected of being in acute distress.  He or she may knock on the doors of, say, 40 apartments, in a search for a student.  This could happen in the middle of the night, or even when the university is closed for a holiday.  On occasion they may transport a student to a counseling appointment, or to the hospital when situations warrant it.  They may accompany a counselor to the scene of a crisis event, without any expectation of being directly involved unless needed, just to raise feelings of security among all who are present.  All of this may happen without any further actions on the part of the officer and police department.

Much of this activity is invisible to the campus community.  But a great many adverse events are contained, and a great many students are assisted, in just this manner.  Well-trained campus police officers are not there just to get us into trouble, as some would have us believe.  They are a vital part of the overall welfare of the community, and they are deserving of our praise.