Safety is a vital part of a well-rounded education. Students need a safe campus environment to feel comfortable learning in. In providing a world-class education, SUNY strives to provide a safe haven for our students to grow and learn. This is why our campuses are finding creative ways to address an important facet of student safety: improving student relations with University Police Officers.
Students and police may appear to have their differences, but we all have the same goal. We all attend our campuses for a reason and want an environment conducive to learning. We want the best from our schools, and the best for our schools. Students want to feel safe, and our campus police want to make us safe. Students may have an initial aversion to police officers, but this aversion fosters a miscommunication where university police can’t address student needs and concerns.
Communication is the key to a healthy and thriving community. If police departments are unaware of the needs and concerns of students in regards to their safety, there’s no opportunity for them to serve the community to the best of their ability. So how do we bridge the gap between students and police? At several SUNY Campuses, the university police departments are addressing this lack of communication in a creative and caffeinated way.
The Coffee With a Cop program has national roots, and SUNY Campuses are using the structure to address the strained student-police relations. At Purchase College, Coffee With a Cop takes over the main mall, offering tables with coffee, pastries, fruit, and uniformed police officers, who sit at nearby tables and talking with students. This program has been successful at Purchase as a tool to rebuild the student-police relationship at the campus after a Vote of No Confidence was adopted by the Student Government. The visibility and accessibility for students to meet their local law enforcement builds trust and accountability, offering students a chance to share their concerns directly with the officers.
At New Paltz, the program takes over a local starbucks, building bridges and connection between the campus police and the entire community. The open and direct environment fosters community, allowing students and officers to address their visions for the community and set goals to reach that vision. The University Police Department has called the program a success, and has been working with other parts of the campus, like the dining services, to improve the program each year.
The University at Buffalo has also found success in the program. An article published to the University Blog stresses the importance of making students and police more familiar with each other. Through “community policing” and “maintaining mutual trust”, students are less afraid of reaching out for help.
To foster the creative, collaborative, and safe atmosphere that SUNY strives for, we need more open dialogue with the officers on our campuses. We stand to learn something from these schools. Sometimes, all we need to understand our differences is a good cup of coffee and a genuine conversation.
Written by Teresa Wheeler, student leader at the University at Albany