15 Tips for Developing Better Support from Campus Administrators

Professional officer appearance, community outreach programs and collaboration with other jurisdictions will help.
Published: March 21, 2014

We have an image problem in campus law enforcement and security. Quite simply, many administrators view the law enforcement/ security function as not integrally connected to their academic mission. Of course, we know that a safe and secure campus is the sine qua non of effective education. In the absence of order, concerns about personal safety will impede the effective transmission of knowledge. Unfortunately, many administrators view us as just a necessary evil.

To make matters worse, we are often our own worst enemy. How many officers think that policing is policing, and that law enforcement operations are the same whether occurring on a campus or in a municipal jurisdiction? The view that law enforcement is independent of the venue within which it exists fosters the divide between college administrators and law enforcement officials. Since it is the former who control the purse strings, the result is troublesome, especially in difficult economic times. Our budgets decline, and we are forced to reduce overtime, training and equipment replacement. Morale plummets and turnover increases, resulting in reduced police effectiveness and higher costs associated with recruiting and training new personnel.

To break this cycle and increase the support we receive from our institutions’ administrators, we must accomplish several goals. We must 1) increase campus respect and appreciation of law enforcement; 2) foster greater recognition of the contributions we make to safety and security; 3) improve perception of our commitment to the institution and our sensitivity and responsiveness to the needs of our clients; and 4) enhance the respect of the institution in the community at large.

There are many ways to instill campus-wide respect for the police, raise confidence in our capability and demonstrate our value to the campus community. Here are 15 tips for achieving these goals.

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Increase Respect for and Appreciation of Law Enforcement

1. Establish a community outreach program. The Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Police Department established our program, run by an officer and a lieutenant, in 2011. It is consisted of three pillars: a monthly four-to-six page newsletter, a campus-wide training program and joint operations with local agencies. Each month, the newsletter presents various safety and security topics (e.g., crime trends on campus, sexual assault, DUI perils); bio sketches of selected officers to highlight their training, experience and special areas of expertise; and announcements of future training offered by the police.

Although significant work is involved in putting out a professional newsletter, the rewards are great because the newsletter achieves, to a greater or lesser extent, most of the five objectives noted above. If launching a newsletter is not feasible at this time, consider establishment of a “Chief’s Corner” in the campus newspaper. This mechanism will allow the department to identify key issues to the college community on a regular basis.

A robust training program, which extends to the college’s six campuses and four centers, is the second pillar of our community outreach program. In 2011, we conducted almost 50 briefings. In 2012, we gave 165 and it topped 200 in 2013. Topics include active shooter response, identity theft, substance abuse, how to deal with difficult people and safety on campus. These presentations are well attended by a broad cross section of faculty, students and staff, and they provide crucial information and a great opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge and professionalism of our presenting officers. Through the chief’s offices, we have briefed some of these topics to senior college policy-making bodies, further enhancing our professional image and validating our contributions to maintaining safe and secure campuses.

Finally, NOVA police work side-by-side with other agencies, such as at our VIN-etching event with the Virginia State Police and Drug Take-Back with the DEA. Our officers, working with other agencies, remind the campus community that we are “real” cops, just like our brothers and sisters in other jurisdictions. This, too, enhances our professional reputation.

2. Invite administrators to observe drills. The extent of knowledge about police operations of most citizens is limited to what they’ve seen on Cops, Hawaii 5-0 and (with a tip of the hat to older faculty members) Highway Patrol. They understand little of our years of training to make split-second life-and-death decisions, master legal intricacies and investigate crimes. Show off your expertise.

At NOVA, we invited senior faculty and staff to observe our annual active shooter training. Some officials even participated as victims. These administrators left with a new appreciation of our professionalism, bravery, capability and commitment to the institution. We have taken other officials to the range to observe our training. We also do ride-alongs and conduct tours of our dispatch center. We’re planning to take some officials to our new firearms simulators to learn what it’s like to be on the business end of a dangerous call, and how quickly seemingly “routine” calls can escalate to incidents.

3. Look smart. I hate to say it, but sometimes, image is important. If officers are driving dirty vehicles or walking around in worn or un-pressed uniforms, it sends the message that we have no pride in our appearance. If our administrators perceive we do not care about ourselves, they are also likely to conclude that we don’t act professionally and are either unwilling or unable to be professional when the situation turns dangerous.

Foster Recognition of Law Enforcement’s Contribution to Campus Safety and Security

4. Provide child safety seat installation services. We need others to believe we are equally attentive to the “serve” part of our “protect and serve” motto. One program with huge potential to garner support is a child safety seat installation program. NOVA’s community outreach officer is also certified in this service. He serves people on campus as well as in the community at large. It has generated significant good will from people who need this service but are often too busy to go to a separate location to get it.

5. Collaborate with surrounding jurisdictions. Recently, I wrote about coordination and joint operations with local agencies as a means of increasing synergy. All of us in college police and security departments have something other agencies want: classrooms where they can exercise their K-9s and hone the skills of their SWAT teams. Offer classrooms as training locations where local jurisdictions can practice during holidays and inter-semester breaks. Better yet, ask to incorporate campus officers into their training sessions. After all, it will be the local officers who respond to your campus in a real incident. Their knowledge of your campus and the familiarity of your and the local officers’ operational procedures will make for a more effective and safer response. Seeing your officers working along-side local police will enhance your department’s reputation.

6. Electronic signs are your friends. If your department has an electronic sign, place it in key locations and use it to provide critical security information. Our signs tell people the telephone number of police dispatch, remind them not to leave their valuables unattended, remind them campus police offer escorts to vehicles and more.

7. Do everything you can to help the campus community deter crime. We leave marked cruisers parked at different locations throughout the nights. We also do aggressive traffic enforcement. We give far more warnings than citations, which are reserved only for the most egregious offenses. This initiative has had a beneficial ef
fect: the community recognizes we see everything. This tells them we are as effective at spotting and deterring crime. They also thank us profusely for the warnings they receive.

Improve Perception of Our Commitment to the Institution and Demonstrate Our Sensitivity and Responsiveness to Its Needs

8. Encourage officers to participate in on-campus activities. We need to be more than the guardians of our institutions. In addition to our policing obligations, we can cultivate the unity of our missions by stepping beyond normal policing functions. Officers who are articulate and not afraid of public speaking should be encouraged to join the college’s speaker’s bureau and register their areas of interest and expertise. This will enhance the institution’s outreach and prestige, and our role in so doing will rebound to our advantage. Even the officers will benefit, since honing their public speaking skills will also help them give better testimony in court.

Officers should also be encouraged to participate in other campus activities: assist or mentor the criminal justice club; offer services to speak in criminal justice, legal and sociology classes where we have specific insights; and assist the student government association. At NOVA, making friends with student leaders helped us become aware of all types of activities on campus heretofore unknown to us. We also placed an officer on the college’s awards committee. His articulate and logical interactions with faculty and staff from across the college enhanced the department’s overall reputation.

And don’t forget other possible assignments, such as the college senate, construction committee, strategic goals committee, etc. How often have we groused about our institution having made ill-informed decisions regarding law and order? We do our institutions a service when we bring our unique experiences and expertise to the ivory tower.

9. Pound the beat. If we want our officers to be embraced as part of our campus community, we need to get them out of their cruisers. Of course our MDTs, patrol rifles and other equipment are in comfortable air-conditioned vehicles, but they discourage positive interaction with our clients. Our college community responds very positively toward our officers on foot patrol. Further, if you can start a bicycle unit, do so. It is more efficient than foot patrol because officers can be stealthy and cover ground faster.

Additionally, people love to see them. However, patrolling by foot and bike is not enough. Our officers need to talk to our citizens. Don’t underestimate the impact of a smile or a “good morning.”

10. Get a bulletin board. Part of being perceived as an integral part of the institution is to get your message out. We have a bulletin board right outside our police offices. We post our monthly newsletters, useful information (e.g., bomb stand-off distances, identity theft tips and services we provide), officer spotlights and other announcements. On a related note, we also make full use of the college’s closed-circuit TV system to disseminate critical information about the department and our services.

11. Go above and beyond, and offer assistance in areas where you can help. At NOVA, Sexual Assault Services, Bystander Intervention and Title IX are not directed by our offices. Even though we are not in charge, our knowledge of how to interview and investigate, familiarity with the legal system and sources of information are desirable capabilities we can use to assist college officials in dealing with these crucial issues. We have done several tag-team training sessions and briefings with our sexual assault services office, and we have assisted in the development of their briefings. Seeing the police in this kinder, gentler role in this area of great concern across the entire community enhances our image as caring professionals serving the institution. It also increases information flow between college citizens and us.

12. Communicate via the Web and solicit suggestions. Again, we want to discourage any perceived disconnect between us and our clients. It is difficult, if not impossible, to know their concerns if we don’t speak with (not “to” or “at”) them. Use social media, blogs and your Web site to solicit ideas and identify concerns from the college community. You will find out about issues, like the street lights that are out on a road adjacent to campus where students park. It’s not an issue under your control, but you can help get the problem resolved. Ask for suggestions, and ask people on campus to identify their priority security concerns. At the request of several students and officials, we conducted a security assessment of several buildings and areas on our campuses. Once we had identified the problems and a range of prioritized solutions, we did walking tours with campus provosts, directors of operations and facilities officials. Changes were implemented, and the campuses became safer. We developed the reputation of caring for our community and of being problem solvers.

Enhance Respect for the Institution in the Community at Large

13. Use the Clery Act to support college growth. We all break our backs meeting Clery requirements, and once the annual security report is done, we take a breather and dread the next evolution a year later. However, once the report is completed, work with college recruiting officials to take it on the road to high school forums. Parents are intensely concerned with the safety and security of campuses their children attend. If we are at these recruiting fairs telling parents about how safe our campuses are and the many mechanisms we have to keep their children safe, enrollments will increase. We will be seen as being committed to our institutions and instrumental in their growth. The bottom line: administrators will be happy, and we will find it easier to get them to promote budgetary growth for our departments.

14. Publicize your efforts. While on the subject of breaking backs, we constantly break ours to provide the highest levels of effective policing in spite of insufficient budgets and manpower. Make a friend of your Public Information Officer (PIO). Have the PIO advertise your innovative and effective initiatives in the community at large. Like the tip above, the dissemination of this information will enhance the institution’s reputation and increase enrollments. It will also enhance the department’s reputation and facilitate recruitment of quality personnel.

15. Establish an Honor Guard. Honor Guards represent their departments at official institution functions, represent their institutions are community events and enhance the image of the department with other agencies. Nothing screams professionalism and generates pride like an Honor Guard.

These Strategies Are Worth the Work

Budgets are tight and we are all being asked to do more with less. Many of these tips will require additional work, but consider it as an investment in greater future returns. We need to be more than just guardians; we need to be and be perceived as full members of and contributors to our institutions’ communities. If we can achieve this goal, we will get greater buy-in from our administrators, improve security on campus, and enhance our own professionalism and capabilities. It’s a win-win!

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Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series