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Campus Law Enforcement Partnerships with Student Affairs

Campus Safety and Violence Prevention
March 17, 2015 Dr. Jonathon Hyde Appalachian State University

Campus Law Enforcement Partnerships with Student Affairs

Do you wish your organization had a stronger relationship with your University Police Department?  Many of us in student affairs do, and most departments and individuals attempt to cultivate a strong relationship with their campus security authorities.  Having partnered with law enforcement organizations at several institutions, some common themes have surfaced in my work.  While most of these partnerships have occurred in my various roles in residential life, I strongly believe the resultant considerations can benefit anyone seeking to create these types of alliances. 

Goals: Clearly articulated goals are crucial to creating a positive relationship.  Are you attempting to humanize police officers in order to make them more approachable to students?  Are you targeting a specific time of year to increase safety on campus, such as a winter break?  Are you trying to speed up the sharing of information between departments post-incident?  While these aims are quite different, ensuring buy-in from both departments and an institutional commitment to the goal is very important. 

Communication: Generally, law enforcement agencies have highly formalized and prescribed means of communication.  Developing knowledge of the chain of command and a preferred means of communication can be crucial to the success of the message.  Establishing the proper hierarchies and methods of communication early on can save relationships and ensure efficiency in the long run.  Additionally, when campus safety personnel are engaging in enforcement interactions with the public, they are generally not available to communicate with Student Affairs staff. Acknowledging this and training staff accordingly on when to back off and let police “do their jobs” can save headaches down the road. 

Recognition: Many organizations, including NASPA, have a means for recognizing law enforcement contributions to the field and partnerships with Student Affairs. Celebrating accomplishments and promoting the good work that officers do to keep students safe is a great way to solidify positive relationships and improve ailing ones. 

Resource Commitment: Sometimes it is beneficial for student affairs professionals to incentivize law enforcement professionals to engage in desired behaviors.  This can be as simple as purchasing casual work attire; for example, providing officers with polo shirts with the Adopt-A-Hall logo so they appear more approachable when in residence halls.  Another option is providing officers with meal allowances so that they can dine with students.   To this end, it’s good to establish in advance that law enforcement engaging in programs and interacting with students is acceptable to their supervisors, as opposed to an additional unpaid time commitment.

Assessment:  Ascertaining goal attainment is important not only to gauge success, but also to ensure and promote future support of the initiatives.  Student Affairs departments are often, but not always, better positioned and resourced to assess programs than law enforcement agencies.  Consequently it can be tempting to take over these duties, yet joint efforts are advised because law enforcement brings a unique and valuable perspective to the assessment process.

Training: One of the most critical components of a strong partnership between Student Affairs and Campus Law Enforcement is making sure that staff members are trained in the various recommendations above.  Additionally, joint trainings with law enforcement agencies allow for relationship building, role clarification, and troubleshooting prior to critical incidents occurring and ongoing programs and plans taking form.