Campus Safety culture change faces rocky transition with students

Kathryn Suggs and her friends were enjoying a typical Saturday night on campus, playing “Murder in the Dark” in the chapel when a Campus Safety Officer approached them. According to Suggs, it was not a pleasant interaction.

“Out of nowhere, the lights flip on and this angry security guard comes in, and just assumed we were doing something wrong,” Suggs said.

When the security guard asked them for an explanation, Suggs said they were up front with him, saying they were playing a game.

“He said we weren’t supposed to be playing games in the chapel, and that we couldn’t be on this side of campus after dark. He ended up forcing us out of the building,” she said.

Suggs, a junior environmental biology major, has often played games in the chapel during her free time – and it has never been a problem before now, she said.

“We started wondering: Did [Campus Safety] actually make new rules that we just didn’t know about?” Suggs asked.

But, an attempt to clarify things with the officer did not get the group anywhere.

“We tried talking to him to get some information, and he said it was pretty much just a judgment call,” Suggs said.

Aaron Quinn, who oversees Campus Safety and Security as part of his Dean of Students duties, has identified the likely cause of the negative interaction that night.

“I think it’s a culture shift,” Quinn said. “We are going to a ‘Community Policing’ model, which is interaction and education versus suspicion and enforcement.”

Quinn said there appears to have been an expectation of a negative encounter between security officers and students in the past. The new goal is to make these exchanges positive.

“What I want us to get to is that both officer and student feel comfortable interacting with each other. We have to get away from ‘if I’m approached by an officer or see an officer, there’s something wrong,’” he said.

Addressing the incident with Suggs and her friends, Quinn clarified campus boundaries.

“There has been an expectation of what has been allowed on campus before and as campus safety we’re not trying to take those things away. We are trying to keep those activities as safe as possible,” he said.

The rules haven’t changed regarding where students can be and at what times they can be there, Quinn added. “Students who are not under curfew restrictions should be comfortable to be in public areas on campus [anytime],” he said.

“For our officers to say, ‘these specific time restraints have changed,’ would be incorrect, but for our officers to say, ‘within these activities we want to be visible, to be known, and to be present,’ is something that we want to go to.”

With this new culture of community policing, security guards are expected to interact with students at all times of the day and night and in a positive manner, Quinn explained.

For example, Quinn said, students walking around campus at three in the morning, which they are welcome to do, should expect to see and interact with officers.

This is meant to be a source of safety to students, not a threat, Quinn said. The officers are here to make sure the campus stays safe.

Along with this new community policing philosophy comes updated training for the officers.

“This is the model that we are going to: There is value in that daily interaction, to see and be seen, both as a deterrent and as a way for students to feel safe,” Quinn said.

Quinn also shared plans to create a security council that will meet once a month starting spring semester. The council will focus on campus and community safety concerns that need addressed.

Along with security officers, any students, staff or faculty who want to be a part of the council are welcome to attend the meetings. Quinn and his team are still working out the details for creating the council.

Anyone with concerns is encouraged to contact Quinn or Campus Safety directly.

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