After encouragement from faculty, students and local law enforcement, Dr. Omar Ali, Interim Dean of the International Honors College, formed the Student Advisory Council for UNCG Police last April with the intent of beginning the council this fall.
Sept. 9 marked the second interest meeting for the Student Advisory Council for UNCG Police. Ali’s purpose in forming the Student Advisory Council for UNCG Police was to create a platform to better establish communication between students and campus police.
The council seeks to address student concerns about UNCG’s police and serve as the UNCG student body’s voice to the command level of the UNCG Police Department. The Council aims to work collaboratively with UNCG’s Chief of Police and their department to examine areas of concern and celebrate areas of success.
The Advisory Board also intends to bridge student and police relations through introducing younger students to police in order to promote familiarity and a sense of safety within the community.
However, before these plans are set in motion, the council will introduce a planning body composed of nine students. Currently, two seats in the council’s planning body have been filled, and five seats remain open.
The council aims to facilitate dialogue between students and the police, as well as change how students interact with the police. One of the ways they intend to accomplish this is through workshops with UNCG’s police in order to engage more people within the community.
The Advisory Council’s other goals include: uniting diverse students’ needs and perspectives together, positively influencing the practices of UNCG’s police, establishing new programs, workshops and community outreach events to be co-led by students and UNCG Police and improving communication between officers and students on campus.
For the time being, the council’s goal is continuity. This continuity will take shape in the number of meetings held; four per year and two per semester. However, if enough students requested to meet more frequently, more students would have the opportunity to enroll as members.
The role of the individual council members is to solicit feedback and represent students’ needs to better provide input reflecting the concerns, visions and ideas of the overall student body.
Ali’s inspiration for the The Student Advisory Council for UNCG Police stems from Dr. Lenora Fulani’s New York City community program, Operation: Conversation, with cops and kids. Not unlike the council, Operation: Conversation’s mission is to help bridge the gap between neighborhood people and police, so people can better understand one another.
For many young people, police can be skittish, uniforms can be off-putting and there is an undercurrent of discomfort in the event of potential interaction. Of his own personal experience, Ali described that while driving with his family in Washington DC, a frightening encounter with a police officer occurred. An officer approached his car with a hand on his gun, and though he felt unsafe, Ali said that the young officer was also probably afraid. “It’s clearly tough being an officer as well, they are working class folks too.”
One woman at the council meeting described an inappropriate incident where a cop said to her kids, “Be careful not to break the law or you’ll go to jail.” This tactic of intimidation is reductive to police and community relations, and is ultimately what the council wants to prevent.
The Board aims to cultivate a “know-each-other” environment; police training to be the main focus. As Fulani’s cops and kids is now a part of the NYPD training program, Ali hopes the council will also have success within the community.
Fulani’s program encourages kids to tell police officers of their experiences and ask tough questions to facilitate communication, such as, “If we were a group of white people, how would you react?”
Though Operation: Conversation is mostly games, it has been proven to work. This is because cops and kids also address real issues and offers the potential to open the minds of officers to be more sensitive to individuals in the neighborhoods that they serve. When similar applications are applied on campus, this, in turn, can affect the way students and officers handle a situation, communicate, as well as continue the dialogue of community safety and police accountability.
“If this helps one person, I think it could be worth our time and it could make a broader impact. Many people serve the community, and this could be taken to the next level, if it really takes off,” said Ali.
Misunderstandings happen on both sides and the Student Advisory Council for UNCG Police aims to minimize these. Their central goal is to bridge the communication gap between students and the police. Ideally, the council wants students to know how to handle certain situations with campus police in order to create a safer environment in which they do not feel such a strong need to walk on eggshells around officers.