A new image for the boys in blue

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September 22, 2009

1:25 AM

Few things unanimously strike fear in every college student: arriving at class and realizing today is the midterm; forgetting to get your major declaration form in by the deadline; and, regardless of what you’re doing, seeing a police officer pass by.

The police at the College of William and Mary want to change the stereotype that they are here to get students in trouble. Leading this movement is William and Mary Police Department Captain Ed Schardein, who joined the College’s community last June after a 22-year career with the Portsmouth Virginia Police Department.

“I come from the city of Portsmouth where policing was well-integrated into the community,” Schardein said. “I want to bring that here and increase our relations with the students. I heard there were relations that weren’t spectacular.”

Schardein wants to improve the relationship between police and students by getting police officers involved with student life in any way possible.

“We need to get officers out there to do community projects with students,” he said. “Walking through the campus, riding bicycles, doing programs in the dorms or the fraternities. We are trying to get out there.”

Megan Hermida ’11, a freshmen resident assistant in Yates Hall, is one of many who have noticed a change in how police are interacting with students.

“[The police] are really trying to reach out to the student population and get rid of all those scary images of them,” she said. “They are trying to be more visible — new programs, particularly through RAs, who can act as a liaison between them and the students.”

Through these programs, Campus Police aims to establish a higher level of trust between officers and students. According to Schardein, establishing this trust is fundamental for a safe campus.

“There’s no way that we can solve all the problems on campus and know what’s going on,” he said. “Students hear and see things we don’t see. With their knowledge and hopefully support and trust, something we want more than anything else, if you trust us to do the right thing, then you’ll call us when something’s wrong. Just give us a call, that’s what we’re here for, and we’ll work our damnedest to solve a problem. ”

WMPD Chief of Police Don Challis agrees.

“We understand it’s important to make relationships with students and they won’t see us as a resource unless they’ve already made a connection with us,” he said.

Challis stressed that students should not be afraid to establish positive relationships with police.

“The more relationships there are between us and the students, city and students, neighborhoods and students, that diffuses a lot of the anxiety and issues,” he said. “Once you know someone, you’re much more willing to work with them.”

Schardein stressed that it is important for students to know that Campus Police officers are not out to get students.

“Most of the time, when we arrest people for [being] drunk in public, we have to care for their safety,” Schardein said. “We have to make sure they make it to the next day.”

Rosemary Willis ’12, who is new to the College, has noticed the constant and visible presence of the police around campus.

“Whenever I’m walking around campus I see the Campus Police,” she said. “I haven’t seen them going after someone yet, but I feel like they’re watching and ready to help if someone needs it.”

However, some students see the increased presence of police on campus as a threat instead of as a reassurance.

“The visibility on campus has worked, but maybe not as the police liked it to be,” Hermida said. “Because students think increased visibility means they are trying to catch students.”

This negative view of police has been heightened recently due to regulations enforced by the Williamsburg Police Department. Relationships between students and police are unquestionably strained, but there is a strong difference between the Campus Police and the city police.

Schardein believes the Campus Police do not deserve the negative image. He said he wants students to differentiate between the campus police and the city police.

“When you have a student or two that might not get along well with other people, that word gets out and starts growing,” he said.

Campus Police officer Israel Palencia agrees. “In general, I believe that most students don’t have a negative view of us. I think what happened was that those that did have a negative encounter with the William and Mary Police Department were a vocal minority.”

Eric Rydin ’10, a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity and former resident assistant in Yates, has mixed feelings about Campus Police.

“I can’t tell you a specific, personal experience of mine where they were really helpful,” Rydin said. “In general, like when the frats have parties, they are really helpful in trying to help students not get in trouble; but when it comes to police-related things, not so much.”

Mary Judge ’11 agrees that when police focus on controlling frat parties, other aspects of students’ safety become neglected.

“I’ve been to a lot of parties busted by police, and they always say the girls should get home safely but I’ve never seen them follow through with that,” Judge said. “I feel like they are not actually concerned about our safety, just with busting up parties.”

Sarah Cosgrove ’10 thinks that police can keep students safe by having a greater presence on campus outside of Ludwell.

“When I lived in Ludwell, the campus cops would always bust up parties, but never once did I see a cop car sitting on Rolfe Road keeping campus students safe who walked home at night,” Cosgrove said. “The police station is only two blocks away, it would be a pretty simple way to help students walking home to feel safe to have a car sitting there, but they just don’t bother.”

With increased visibility on campus and more involvement in the community, Campus Police hopes to strengthen its relationship with students.

“[Officers] are approachable,” Schardein said. “I walk through campus a lot, and it’s amazing how many students won’t look at me or immediately look away. We can talk to each other. Yes, police are the ‘other guys,’ and we understand that, but we want to be on the same team. We’re all a part of the same campus.”

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