U Police to become more involved on campus

by Robert Koch

Asked last fall for his impression of University Police, then-standing president of the Minnesota Student Association, Ben Bowman, answered: “Some guy in a car.”
Police Chief George Aylward intends to put a name and a face on that officer.
Aylward presented Thursday to the Board of Regents his department’s new community policing plan. The five-year strategic plan is designed to expand the department from a force that answers service calls to one that actively engages itself in the community.
According to the plan, full-time zone and residence hall officers will patrol their assigned areas on foot or bicycle, developing relationships with the people they serve.
“The real concept is to work with that community — and it will include students, staff and faculty — to resolve issues and solve problems,” Aylward said.
The plan is set to begin in September with the formation of a task force representing the University, police and the community at large.
In November, officers will enter residence halls, specific colleges and departments in addition to performing their regular patrol duties.
By March 2001, the department will add a fourth, daytime shift and assign officers to zones modeled on those used by Facilities Management. The new zone officers will work on foot or bicycle, “developing relationships, friendships and trust.”
And in September 2001, students living in dormitories can expect to see residence hall officers during evening hours.
Other elements of the plan include police sub-stations in Middlebrook Hall and the St. Paul Student Union, creation of crime and executive protection units, and perhaps even mounted patrols.
During the implementation period, University-wide surveys will track progress of the plan.
Aylward said the department will expand beyond its current 35-officer force. The number of additional officers has yet to be determined, he added.
The department had 65 sworn members in 1972. But staffing problems since 1990 have forced many officers into their current “reactive posture.”
Officers assigned to foot beats, bicycle patrols, crime prevention and community relations increasingly found themselves in squad cars, responding to calls but otherwise removed from the community.
Ross Macmillan, University professor of sociology, researches criminology. Macmillan said research has shown community policing improves public perception of law enforcement if not necessarily reducing crime.
“An awful lot of what police do is service rather than sort of catching bad guys,” Macmillan said. “In that respect, community policing is probably a better way to go about things than your traditional problem occurs, police arrive in a vehicle, spend five minutes there and then take off again.”
Macmillan added that community policing is more effective in well-defined communities. “A university is a classic example of that,” he said.
In recent years, large cities like New York and Detroit have instituted community policing. Some critics dismiss it as assigning social work to police officers. But the approach is hardly revolutionary.
Macmillan said community policing dates back to the last century. But suburbanization after World War II put officers in squad cars, he added.

Robert Koch covers police and courts and welcomes comments at [email protected].