10 Years Of Proactive Community Policing Build Campus Teamwork, Make UB A Safer Place

By Mara McGinnis

Release Date: April 10, 2000 This content is archived.


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UB's community policing program has brought officers like Sandra Woods into closer contact with the campus community, including students in the residence halls.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In 1989, the Department of Public Safety at the University at Buffalo underwent a major change when it became one of the first colleges or universities to adopt a new philosophy, management style and organizational strategy known as community policing.

Today, more than 10 years later and with the assistance of three federal grants totaling nearly $300,000 to assist and enhance its pursuit of community-oriented policing, the department is seeing the results in a safer campus environment, according to John Grela, UB director of public safety.

Grela explains that community policing involves assigning campus police officers to patrol designated areas of campus and to develop relationships with the various groups residing or working in these areas.

"Community police officers are trained to meet with the groups they serve to define problems, develop strategies to maintain a safe environment, and conduct special programs," explains Grela, noting that Public Safety presents more than 300 programs a year including self-defense workshops and seminars on rape prevention and alcohol and drug awareness.

"This approach fosters a sense of community and actually helps to forge partnerships with the various organizations on campus by uniting them in pursuit of a common goal, which is a safer environment," says Grela.

Community policing, he adds, promotes proactive problem-solving and police-community partnerships to address the causes of crime and fear and to recognize patterns of crime or other problems. He explains that problem-solving policing at UB involves a model known as Scan, Analyze, Respond, and Assess (SARA), which gives officers the chance to devise a solution and implement changes to particular problems.

"This approach differs from traditional policing or what is known as 'incident-driven policing' because traditionally police are reactive. In other words, when confronted with an incident we react to that incident, look at what is involved in that one incident, address it, and go on to the next incident," Grela explains. "Community policing, specifically problem-solving strategies, shows that it often is more cost effective and efficient to look for patterns in collections of incidents and for broader, preventive, long-range solutions to problems."

The problem-oriented policing concept provides the structure to work with the community to solve such problems as thefts in Alumni Arena lockers, parking problems in a specific area or fire-alarm problems in the residence halls, he adds.

John Woods, assistant director of public safety, explains that the three grants from the U.S. Department of Justice, through its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), have been integral in maintaining and upgrading community policing efforts at UB.

In 1995, for the first time ever, colleges and universities became eligible for Department of Justice grants. UB was one of the first recipients with a $68,000 equipment grant to upgrade its computer-aided dispatch system, which Woods says helped to make the operation easier to utilize and has eliminated the duplication of records. It also allowed for the integration of a new computerized radio system that is linked to all local law enforcement, fire and medical service agencies.

The department then received $78,000 in 1998 as part of the COPS Problem-Solving Partnerships grants program, which allows the policing agency to work with the community to address persistent crime and disorder problems. With this grant, Woods developed a partnership with the University Residence Halls to look at alcohol-related problems, specifically underage drinking.

As a result of this grant program, officers who patrol the residence halls are trained to deal specifically with victims and offenders in alcohol-related incidents and to ask the victim or offender a short series of questions that provides vital information in addressing the problem, says Woods.

These surveys, which ask questions about the source of the alcohol, where the offender had been drinking and why, helped increase information about how students obtain alcohol. As a result, several bars on Main Street near UB's South Campus have been referred to the State Liquor Authority and arrests have been made at house parties in the University Heights area, where many students live in off-campus apartments.

"By providing this type of information, we are able to develop a case, which allows the local police to send in undercover officers to cite bartenders or bar owners," explains Grela. "This type of documentation gives them more leverage when trying to identify the source."

Grela also has been able to develop a list of bars and liquor stores to which he sends a letter at the start of each academic year reminding them of the penalties involved with selling alcohol to those who are underage.

Asking students why they drink on the survey is helpful, Woods explains, because it asks specifically if the offender was drinking due to depression, habit or emotional problems, among

other reasons. This allows officers to refer offenders to the Counseling Center or Student Health Center or to contact the person's Residence Hall director to intervene, if appropriate.

The Department of Public Safety has nine officers and two lieutenants working in a community-policing capacity in several locations: the North Campus academic spine, South Campus academic area and North and South campus residence halls.

Thanks to a third federal grant under the COPS Universal Hiring Program, the department last year was awarded $150,000 over three years to hire two additional community police officers to patrol the University Residence Halls. Woods explains that this is especially important to community-policing efforts, given the increase in students living on campus with two new apartment complexes -- Hadley Village and South Lake Village.

Both Woods and Grela agree that since the implementation of community policing, Public Safety has seen an increase in the number of calls it receives, which they say is important since crime often is underreported. Reported complaints have risen from 13,390 to 16,599 in 1999, while arrests and crime reports have remained steady. With more crimes and incidents being reported, they say they can better establish crime trends and problem areas.

"Based on my interaction with a variety of campus police departments and traditional law-enforcement departments, I believe our community-policing effort is one of the most successful nationally," says Grela, who notes that a customer-service questionnaire sent to everyone involved in a campus incident revealed a satisfaction rate of between 95 and 98 percent since the survey began in 1995.

Public Safety has been honored for its community-policing efforts with a Professional Achievement Award from the Northeast Colleges and Universities Security Association.