Community policing, or Police State?

Yesterday, the on-campus students started moving into the dorms here at Virginia Tech. The local bird cage liner tends to run a story or two on this every year, since it creates a pretty significant disruption to traffic. In this year’s story, I noticed something new, and today they ran a story with more detail.

[T]his year a special unit of police officers assigned to the dorms will work to prevent those problems, if they can, said Morgan, who oversees the new unit.

If they can’t, “we’ll be there to help those students get back on track,” officer Nicole Viers said.

Viers is one of three Tech officers assigned to the new Residence Life Resource Officer program, a joint project between the residence life division of student affairs and the police department. Officers John Tarter and Dallas Leamon are also assigned to the new unit.

All three were dressed casually last week in the attire they will wear on the job: maroon polo shirts and blue jeans, their firearms and badges clipped to their belts and ready smiles spread across their faces. […]

The resource officers replace several part-time security guards that used to patrol dormitories under Tech’s Campus Watch program, Morgan said.

But high turnover among those guards stymied the strong relationships officials hoped to build with students. So, more than a year ago, they came up with a new plan to put full time, sworn police officers in the dorms. […]

The idea for dorm resource officers is similar to resource officers deployed in middle and high school: prevent trouble by building trust.

In law enforcement, this is known as community policing, a strategy that enlists residents to work with officers to prevent crime. But it requires a high level of trust between police and the people they protect. Building that trust takes time and consistency.

It’s hoped that dorm resource officers can build stronger bonds with residence hall advisers and students than have been possible in the past. The officers will also provide programs and training in the dorms, including substance abuse prevention and the popular Rape Aggression Defense course for women, Leamon said.

Well, I know one way to reduce crime on campus, but that’s a bit off-topic in this case.

I’m a bit torn on this. I certainly favour community policing over the growing militarization of police that is happening in our country. But the dorms are the students’ homes. The division between public and private in many dorms is questionable – just as one example, simply going to the bathroom can require wandering through the halls, and places you in the public eye. Now, the police could already could legally (as far as I know) simply come in at random and walk the halls, but as far as I know they normally would only go into the residential areas if they were called – whether this was due to some legal requirement or simply a policy in place for respecting students’ privacy I don’t know. But the idea of having a police officer specifically assigned to one’s dorm, specifically to check up on whether those students are breaking or about to break the law (rather than to watch for danger), who could be wandering those semi-private areas at any time, brings to mind the intrusiveness of the classical police state.

So, I don’t know what to think of this new initiative. What say you, dear readers?

END OF LINE

[Source: Roanoke Times article, retrieved 8/18/11]

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2 Comments

  1. Cymond

     /  August 18, 2011

    I’m certainly not comfortable with the idea. I graduated from high school shortly after they introduced cops to our hallways, but my little brother was there for a couple more years. Either of us can tell you that ‘trust’ was not a word used in connection to those cops. Maybe we were just in denial, but my gut reaction to having those cops was similar to a Brady campaigner’s reaction to concealed carry in a church. Police are a walking embodiement of power, authority, and sadly, privilege. Put simply, cops can and frequently do get away with blatant violations of our nation’s highest laws. With our recent decay of the 4th Amendment combined with the rampant (but mostly harmless) crimes of college life (tobacco, underage drinking, and maybe even a smuggled puppy!), life in the dorms will feel like living under constant surveillance. It’s just so easy to hear or smell something suspicious.

    Reply
    • You’ve pretty well echoed my first reaction, and the reasons behind it. This may be an honest attempt at trying to bring back true community policing, but I don’t think it will work. I’m afraid that our laws have become too byzantine and invasive, and the expected role of police has become too authoritarian, for community policing to work.

      Reply

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