The Student Assembly and the College of William and Mary Police Department made steps toward improving student-police relationships through holding a tailgate before the football game against the University of Richmond Nov. 22.
According to Police Chief Don Challis, the officers intended the tailgate to “break the evil image” that some students attach to the force. They wanted to meet students outside of a police encounter and hoped to show that police officers were regular people.
Sen. Ross Gillingham ’10, the sponsor of the bill that funded the event, meant for the tailgate to be an informal forum to bring students and police together to express their views regarding each other’s role on campus.
“There are some extreme opinions about the police on campus,” Gillingham said. “We wanted to give students the opportunity to see the police from a different perspective, or at least to directly discuss their grievances.”
Many officers said they were puzzled at the common student perception of the police as harsh enforcers of what some perceive to be banal laws.
“If students don’t draw attention to themselves, if we don’t see anything wrong, then there isn’t a problem,” Officer James Baez-Am said.
Challis echoed the sentiment, citing statistics that students are far less likely to be arrested at the College than at other area universities, and that most arrests are made as a result of alcohol.
“I think we have a good relationship with the student body,” Challis said. “We don’t have couches set on fire or furniture thrown on front yards. This is a college town, though, and there are going to be some parties. But it’s not our job to harass students; we are supposed to protect them. [However], if we see somebody stumbling home drunk, and we let them go and they get hit by a bus, then we are responsible.”
All the members of the force agreed that they enjoy their job on the police force and that the students are generally well-behaved.
Groups of students filtered in and out of the tailgate. None left, however, without being urged to consume multiple plates of food and talk with the officers.
Although most of the interviewed students came to the tailgate with generally positive impressions of the police, the majority had never before taken the time to have a discussion with an officer.
Charles Crimmins J.D. ’10 relished the opportunity to mingle with the local police.
“[Officer Israel Velasquez] and I reminisced over our college days,” Crimmins said.
Andrew Noll ’10 told bystanders that he “came for the free food,” but stayed for the opportunity to meet the police in an amiable way.
Sammy Hamiddin ’09 summarized the student consensus about the tailgate.
“It’s very important to get to know the cops,” Hamiddin said. “Normally, people see the badge and run, but the cops here aren’t out to get us. They just have a job to ensure our safety. They are all nice people.”
Gillingham expressed interest in making student-police tailgates a regular occurrence. He also spoke of the possibility that a more formal forum for student — police discussion may be held in the future.