This writing is intended to address the relationship between the members of the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management and our students within the context of ongoing national occurrences that are negatively impacting the policing profession.
Even as recent incidents have involved municipal agencies, as campus police, we fully realize that this does not separate or differentiate us from the shroud of deep distrust associated with those across the nation who wear the uniform and who are entrusted to serve and protect without regard to race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, disability or sexual orientation. Every action or inaction by the police is a direct reflection of police officers everywhere. This is precisely why we deliberately choose to get out in front of these issues versus getting dragged down with them — because we genuinely believe in the greater good of our profession, and we genuinely purpose to build a reservoir of trust between our office and our students that we can draw on during these tumultuous times.
Since the time that I was invited to participate in the Ithaca College Ferguson panel discussion in December 2014, I have come together with our students on several occasions, in various venues, with the sole objective of seeking to understand versus seeking to be understood. Largely, I have listened while exercising great care to avoid the instinct to come to the defense of incredibly good police officers everywhere, which comes from years of serving in a career and profession that I love and believe in. Over the years I have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of my profession, both directly and indirectly, and I know that change is needed and that change begins with me.
Following President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, police agencies everywhere held listening sessions, urgently engaging law enforcement professionals, youth and community and faith leaders on how to build collaborative, trusting relationships between the police and the communities they serve.
I find this both necessary and perplexing all at once since the key to building these relationships rests with community-oriented policing, which has existed for centuries; it is deeply ingrained in campus police professionals and highly effective on college campuses, which are their own unique communities within a community.
Nearly two years ago, I worked with our Office of Human Resources and other stakeholders to lead our team in revisiting and redefining our mission, vision and guiding principles, which are deliberately anchored in the tenets of community-oriented policing. Many have heard me say time and again that we are accountable, and we have a strong vision for meeting the unique needs of our community. The stakes are high because these are unique times, and we hold unique power and authority, yet we remain answerable.
As those entrusted with the tremendous responsibility of your safety and security, we are highly invested in building relationships grounded in trust and transparency, and we purpose to build positive and meaningful partnerships for problem-solving. To this end, and in collaboration with the students we serve, we will continue to build on initiatives such as Conversations with Public Safety and other forums that uniquely engage our community. What we heard from students during recent programming was a strong desire to get to know us as individuals, beyond the uniform. These open forums have provided educational opportunities that lend to a better understanding of who we are, what we do and how we do it, as well as a shared understanding and respect for one another’s experiences.
Currently we are working with offices and organizations across campus to build on your ideas about how best to continually engage our campus community. If you have ideas that you would like to share, please reach out to me directly as we begin to conceptualize our fall lineup of community-engagement initiatives. Please visit our website at ithaca.edu/safety for more information about our office, including our mission, vision and guiding principles. I am eager to hear your thoughts and concerns and equally eager for you to better come to know your campus police professionals — whom I am proud of and proud to call my team — in your service.
Terri Stewart is the director of the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management. Email her at [email protected]