Staff editorial: Student engagement should still be a priority for UPD

You probably haven’t spent much time recently thinking about the role the University Police Department plays in your life on campus.

While UPD has tripled its amount of arrests in one year, it’s not clear if officers are connecting with students in any other way.

In August, UPD Chief RaShall Brackney said she wanted to prioritize face-to-face relationships between UPD and students by hosting monthly meetings over coffee to hear feedback. Brackney also said she would expand UPD’s presence on campus through the Connect program – which hosts events for officers and students – and use Twitter to talk directly to students about safety tips and information. But we haven’t seen much of this happen.

It also seems like students haven’t prioritized a relationship with UPD this year. After years of students advocating for more emergency alerts and increasing the number of blue lights on campus, students seem far less focused on UPD now. There were no mentions of UPD in the SA elections, and SA Executive Vice President Thomas Falcigno proposed a student advisory board for UPD in January, but we haven’t heard anything since.

When former UPD Chief Kevin Hay resigned last year, and a task force was implemented to choose a new chief, the editorial board called for certain changes in the department. We asked for more communication between students and UPD and a more positive top-down leadership approach within the department.

Hay’s tenure was marred by lawsuits over sexual harassment and discrimination in the department. While it’s great that we haven’t heard of similar incidents happening recently, students shouldn’t stop advocating for more information about the department.

After a year in the department, it seems like Brackney has yet to make headway on creating more connections with students – something she said was her top priority last summer. And that’s a problem because open lines of communication would create a more educated student body and less of an “us vs. them” narrative between UPD and students.

In an email, Brackney said that this fall she met with students over coffee to discuss safety tips for Halloween and held a coffee series in Gelman over finals, among other things. That’s a good start, but it doesn’t seem that that momentum carried over into the spring semester.

And that’s disappointing. Brackney was lauded for her efforts to reach out to community members on a monthly basis as commander in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. That’s something that would make a positive impact at GW. While Brackney met with Student Association leaders last summer, those students aren’t always the ones who would benefit most from talking to Brackney or other UPD officers.

Face-to-face meetings aren’t the only way Brackney could create more communication with the student body. In fact, it would be beneficial for Brackney to get a Twitter account to communicate with students. If all students could talk openly with Brackney, like they do when interacting with Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski on Twitter, students could tweet at UPD about suspicious activity and UPD could send out safety tips.

“An ongoing priority is our continued engagement with the community,” Brackney said in an email. “Campus safety is not the single responsibility of GWPD. It is the responsibility of the entire campus.”

UPD should take a proactive approach in student engagement. Rather than host spaghetti nights or root beer pong, UPD should consider bringing speakers to campus. Speakers on topics like legally protesting on a college campus or reporting a sexual assault could bring students and officers together in a positive dialogue.

Brackney hasn’t done a bad job since she started as chief. But it’s disheartening that her goals for student and community engagement have fallen to the wayside. It’s time for Brackney to reprioritize the goals she set in August and for the student body to force this dialogue once again.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Sarah Blugis and contributing opinions editor Melissa Holzberg, based on discussions with sports editor Nora Princiotti, design editor Samantha LaFrance, copy editor Brandon Lee, managing director Eva Palmer, culture editor Grace Gannon and research assistant Tyler Loveless.

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