How to Improve Situational Awareness on Campus

Your efforts, although time consuming, will help to ensure students, faculty and staff will take responsibility for their own safety.

Apply the Community Policing Approach

Encouraging the campus community to provide intelligence can be achieved if we use the community policing model. We need to be more than mere cops who arrive to respond to their problems. We must become members of their community, work with them to identify their concerns, and generate acceptable options they need and want. In short, we must go beyond our usual “victim/savior” model. We need to make those we serve recognize they have primary responsibility for their own safety. We should remind them that when seconds count, the police arrive in minutes. By creating an atmosphere where we all share responsibility for safety and security, we become their partners and they internalize their responsibility to play a positive role in crime prevention and response.

There are many ways to enhance information flow between the citizens we serve and the police. To reach faculty and staff, we should attend provost staff, administrative council, and faculty/staff meetings and convocations. Empower them by soliciting their views on what they think we can do to improve safety on campus, and we should come with “news they can use.” They will appreciate this information as well as come to respect our professionalism and service.

Invite key administrators and faculty to do ride-alongs and to attend selected police training. You can build a lot of camaraderie in a cruiser in the wee hours of the morning. Having the dean and provost on our side can go a long way in getting support for our initiatives (and subsequent budget requests). We also use faculty and staff members as role players in our active shooter training. Our civilian colleagues appreciate our professionalism and come to view us as fellow professional colleagues, not just responders. Discuss indicators and crime trends on campus when you give Clery briefings, and make presentations at new faculty and staff orientations.

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We have also found that addressing new student orientations gives us a chance to build rapport with young students and their parents. Do not overlook parents as an effective source of intelligence. After all, there are many instances in which parents report concerning behavior of a child to local authorities.

Mentoring, Class Lectures Help Build Rapport

Reaching students is a bit more difficult, but mutual suspicions can be overcome. Have o
fficers mentor campus clubs (e.g., criminal justice, boxing) and give lectures to classes in which officers have expertise (e.g., criminal justice, sociology, law and psychology). We have plenty to say, but better still, we will build rapport with students. Offer ride-alongs to students as well.

In addition to the focused strategies above, there are many campus-wide approaches that will build greater respect for the police along with civilian willingness to provide us with information. My department publishes a monthly public safety newsletter that is distributed campus-wide and posted on bulletin boards around campus. Our newsletters provide crime prevention information and intelligence (e.g., how to identify/deal with a suspicious package). We also include bio sketches of officers and list scheduled training, such as women’s self-defense, and events (identify theft, VIN etching/auto theft prevention, DEA Drug Take-Back, document shredding, etc.). These events support the “what’s in it for them” to which I referred earlier. You can also establish a citizens’ police academy. All of these initiatives make us partners with those we serve.

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Your Work Is Worth the Effort

There are many ways to build mutual partnerships with our communities. However, many of these strategies involve hard work, initiative on our part and going beyond our traditional comfort levels. However, if the results are the effective deterrence of malevolent events, less crime on campus, higher closer rates due to information gained from our partners, and greater support and respect from those we serve, I say the costs are well worth it.

Lt. John M. Weinstein is the commander for District 3 of Northern Virginia Community College.

About the Author


Dr. John Weinstein is an actively serving senior police officer and command staff member at one of the largest post-secondary academic institutions in the United States. He is a certified firearms, Verbal Judo, and CIT instructor and contributes frequently to Campus Safety and other publications.

The views expressed in his articles should not be construed as representing the official views of his present institution.

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