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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Safety and security for students, personnel, and the surrounding community is a unique challenge for law enforcement working on campuses of higher education. COPS Student Intern Nathan Zipfel discusses the job of university policing with American University police officers and Lieutenant Rima Sifri.
The American University (AU) police department is both similar to and different from a community police department: its roles and its responsibility to ensure the safety of its constituents are the same as for any other police department, to ensure the safety of each one of its constituents; but serving on a college campus and serving in Washington D.C. both come with their own challenges and opportunities.
AU police officers perform many essential campus services, including educational programs and escort and counseling services, as well as functioning as the police force for the campus. But what they seem to provide more than anything else is safety and support.
Lieutenant Rima Sifri spoke on some of the initiatives that they perform. “We have a self-defense program called RAD,” which stands for Rape Aggression Defense. “We offer classes every semester [. . .] to really anybody that wants to take them, we never say no, a student from Georgetown or George Washington or anyone from the community. We want to instill that good-will with everybody, because you never know if something does happen and they don’t have the skills.”
Another program that the AU Police provide is called Safe Ride to Campus. “If you are stranded in Washington DC, Virginia, or Maryland, within a 10-mile radius, you can call a taxi and ask to be taken to American University's Department of Public Safety,” Sifri said. Sifri made clear how important it is that to the AU police is that students feel safe, even if they are not on campus. “We are firm believers in providing that support all of the time; we don’t want anyone to feel anyone to feel like they don’t have that support.”
Officer John Lodge spoke of the impact and influence that community policing has had on American University, discussing a specific program implemented to increase outreach called the Residence Hall Liaisons. These are officers who go out to a residence hall “once or twice a semester with some sort of community project in mind, and work closely with community directors [. . .] so it is also a bit of community building as well. One thing that we did was we had a food cart and rolled through the halls,” Lodge said. “It helps build the community [relationship] between the students and the officers because they get to see us through a different light.” Sergeant Doris Mervin echoed Officer Lodge’s sentiments on community policing: “We are very big on community policing—being officers that the community feels safe to approach and comfortable speaking with as well. . . .[I]t is important that we interact with our community members in a very respectful way.”
This relationship building and community building has yielded results. Crime statistics for the AU main campus have shown reductions year to year, and the most recent statistics show that arrests made by the AU Police Department are now almost nonexistent. Judicial referrals for weapons-related violations have also maintained near-zero numbers.
Officer Lodge suggested these numbers may be dropping as a result of community policing, through community engagement and greater communication and trust with the students. Lodge graduated from AU in 2016 and entered the police force directly out of college. “I was in a fraternity on campus, and then becoming a police officer is obviously a transition. It was funny the first couple times—I’m in uniform and I see my former frat-brothers and they’re looking at me in this different light. But what actually became of that was something really unique. . . . [A]t first they were like ‘Oh, John, you’re coming to bust us,’ but then it became ‘Oh, John, something happened at our party last night and we don’t know how to deal with it’ and it really became a resource.”
In many ways, the public perception and narrative has become that University Police and On-Campus Police are not the same as other Police Officers; this could not be further from the truth. Approximately 92% of public colleges and universities have sworn and armed officers, meaning that it is almost a virtual guarantee that approximately 18.86 million students will rely or have some form of funded police unit on campus serving and protecting those students and the future of America . On-campus law enforcement are the guardians of higher education, they perform an invaluable service to millions of people across the United States, and while too often go unnoticed, it is because of their discretion that we should give thanks for the safety and security provided to students, faculty and administration.
Intern, COPS Office
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