Loosening the noose on BIGOTRY

Campus law enforcement can help bridge the divide between hate and tolerance

     College universities tend to be very diverse communities, says Christina Abraham, civil rights director of the Chicago Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). "Anywhere you go the most diverse segment of a city tends to be where the university is centered," she says. It makes sense then for the racial composition of the campus police agency to reflect the educational community, says Shuford. A diverse police force brings multifarious perspectives and a greater knowledge of the people over whom the agency has enforcement authority, he points out. Less stereotyping may occur, he says, as officers work side by side with people from various minority communities and gain greater respect for their cultures and beliefs.

     A department composition that mirrors the community may also boost the public's confidence in the police force. Communities of color, for example, might believe that because there are "people like them" in the department, the agency is "committed to even-handed enforcement," he explains.

     Chalmers Sanders, director of public safety at the University of Michigan — Flint agrees that a diverse police force is a noble thing to strive for. But the overseer of safety for this college of 6,600 students emphasizes that the right thing to do isn't always feasible. Many things — from union and seniority rights to a lack of minority applicants — can hinder this effort.

     Matching department demographics to the campus community is something all departments struggle with, admits Burke, who emphasizes that the fact all departments compete for the same minority applicants complicates things. The UW-Madison PD runs newspaper ads, participates in job fairs, recruits in larger cities with greater minority populations, targets other colleges and universities for their minority workforce, and advertises online. Yet, he says, the agency still struggles to attain a composition that reflects the campus community.

     "People tend to stay in the area where they already live," he says. "No matter how much we reach out to Chicago, Minneapolis or Detroit, it becomes unlikely that people will come here to work when they can get 100 jobs within driving distance of where they currently live." Thus, the makeup of most campus departments generally reflects the community at large as opposed to the campus community. "We will compete for those applicants, but we may have a finite population that we can draw from," he says.

     Keeping this in mind, the Madison-based department sets its sights on hiring the best applicants it can, targeting those with open minds and exposure to different cultures. Burke relates current practices back to the old belief that only female officers could process sexual assault cases involving female victims. The profession, he says, quickly realized female officers were not always available and began to question whether a male officer could be just as informed, sensitive and compassionate. They soon learned both male and female officers could handle these cases appropriately. In that regard he asks, "Shouldn't a white officer be able to communicate appropriately and effectively, and in a respectful and dignified manner, with an African American? Shouldn't a Latino officer be able to do the same with a Muslim?" Burke maintains they can — if the right hiring decisions are made.

     "I understand that there's a certain degree of credibility in seeing someone in uniform that looks like me. That's why we and other departments strive to reflect the communities we serve," he says. "But this is one of those things you continually strive for but may never attain."

Know thy neighbor

     Communication. Communi-cation. Communication. These are the three C's of law enforcement when policing a racially and culturally diverse student population. Community policing represents one way of keeping communication channels open, Burke points out.

     The UW-Madison PD polices the Eagle Heights housing development on the far west end of campus. This is an area approximately 5,000 students from the campus' international community call home. To fully address the neighborhood's needs, the department has assigned it a community policing officer for more than 15 years. Having a single officer work closely within a given community helps foster trust between the police and international students, who often come from countries where law enforcement officials were feared, not trusted. "Officers get to be seen and observed as human beings not as authority figures, who are going to lock them up and throw away the key," Burke stresses.

  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to Officer.com. To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.