A man I know said he chose to be a firefighter over a police officer because, as a fire fighter, he could break down walls and smash windows, but people would still be happy to see him. A police officer, he said, does so much as drive through a neighborhood, and he is universally hated and feared. The College of William and Mary Police Department are trying to change this stigma, and they deserve a fair evaluation.
When the Campus Police set up a tailgate with the Student Assembly on Nov. 22, I was pretty impressed. They don’t have to be nice to us just to be nice, but obviously they have a problem being characterized as power-hungry, pepper-spray-wielding monsters. Students wandered up to the officers, initially enticed by the wafting smell of free food. Instead of standing ready with breathalyzers in hand and interrogation lights shining over their shoulders, the College’s police officers asked how the end of the semester was going and reassured students that if they ever needed help, they should feel free to ask anytime.
While opening up to the students in a relaxed environment is a great start toward better officer-student relations, I could add to a list of things the students wish Campus Police did for them.
They could probably stop by the hospital parking a lot more often to check on the female students who have to wait in the dark, alone, for the bus to come. It would be nice if some of the bikes that have been stolen over the last semester could be found and returned. And, every once in a while, instead of pulling up in a cruiser beside me on the road to see if I’m drunk on a Saturday night, an officer could ask if I feel safe and how long of a distance I have until I am safely back in my dorm.
In the end, however, we focus more on the things that Campus Police can’t give us than on the things which they can legally improve. Police officers, even Campus Police, have a fundamental responsibility — to enforce the law.
We accuse them of busting too many parties for underage drinking when there actually was underage drinking at the party. People complain about getting arrested while stumbling home drunk, underage or not. Well, if it’s illegal to be underage and drunk, or to exhibit “public drunkenness,” then it is a police officer’s job to do something about it, not look the other way. They don’t make the Virginia laws or the College’s policies — they just enforce them.
Their job is to protect us, even from ourselves in our worst moments. Don’t tell me the kids who like to lie in the middle of Richmond Road at 3 a.m. are being completely rational. Some people react to the presence of Campus Police around every corner by turning and walking in the other direction. I think their presence is reassuring, and, even if they’re only interested in finding out if I’m drunk, they’re not going to stand aside if I happen to get mugged.
No, they’re not nice to underage drinkers, feces-flinging frat boys or even desperate parking policy violators on their way to a final. However, they like people who obey the rules or who at least aren’t caught breaking the law.
Although many could say otherwise, I have had pretty positive experiences with the campus’s police officers. Despite getting nervous every time a police cruiser drives behind my car, I can easily admit that the police officers are attentive and willing to help in any situation.
Students seem to act like the campus is a relatively safe place because of the quality of the students and the honor code. We have a tendency to complain about the police cramping our drinking habits rather than recognizing their presence as a factor in keeping us safe. That Campus Police have a reputation for not letting misdemeanors slide is more reassuring than it is annoying.
Brittany Hamilton is a junior at the College.