Department of the Year Award
2017 National Finalist
Western Michigan University – Department of Public Safety
While safety has always been a concern on college campuses and universities, there seem to be more challenges in keeping the campus community safe. Western Michigan University (WMU) has a student population of approximately 24,000 and the WMU police department is responsible for protecting faculty, staff, students, and visitors. Because it is imperative to improve campus safety throughout this nation, WMU police department has implemented the following initiatives in Kalamazoo.
In 2016, the Kalamazoo community experienced two separate horrific events. On February 20, Jason Dalton, an Uber driver, killed six people and seriously wounded two more in 3 different shooting incidents. Before the community fully grasped that tragic event, a driver killed five bicyclists and injured four more on June 7.
Even though the incidents did not occur on campus, WMUPD realized a process to communicate serious or life-threatening incidents to the numerous students living off campus who may be impacted was lacking. WMUPD created Facebook and Twitter pages to disseminate vital information concerning off-campus incidents to students, parents, and the campus community. Additionally, the department contracted with Social Sentinel, a threat assessment company, to monitor numerous social media sites for harmful or threatening information concerning the campus, students, or the university community.
Some of the most difficult police involved calls relate to mental health issues of community members. Because of the increase in these types of calls, WMU PD partnered with Kalamazoo Community Mental Health to train all sworn officers in crisis intervention techniques (C.I.T.). Throughout the intensive week- long training, officers are taught de-escalation techniques for individuals suffering from mental health crises. To support this initiative, a staff member participates on the early intervention team (E.I.T.) to discuss and monitor those students having mental health difficulties.
The team coordinates response efforts regarding student concerns from faculty, staff, and students.
WMUPD is committed to the philosophy of engagement, education, and enforcement. With this focus in mind, the department created a Residence Hall Liaison program last year. All 26 residence halls have an assigned police officer to assist staff with a variety of functions. The officers visit the halls during their shifts as time permits to develop relationships with students and staff. Officers attend several hall safety meetings throughout the year and conduct crime prevention programs.
Visibility of police is crucial; therefore, the number of bike patrol officers has increased. It is common to see officers patrolling on bicycles including the chief of the department. Additionally, an WMU officer is now assigned to the Community Outreach and Problem Solving (COPS) unit of Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety. This community policing officer’s time is spent in a student residential area off campus and serves as a liaison between the two departments.
The officer’s responsibility includes establishing relationships within the student community, resolving neighborhood conflicts and quality of life issues, such as: underage drinking, noise, illicit drug use and sales, littering, large parties, fights, traffic and disorderly individuals. The unit reviews crime trends in the area to provide early intervention and advice for emerging issues.
View the full 2017 Top 25 List.