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Students to meet with police

Megan Doyle | Thursday, March 31, 2011

As student government turnover approaches Friday, the outgoing administration finalized an agreement this week to establish formal meetings throughout the year between student body leaders and local law enforcement.

“This serves as a commitment to the student body, community and law enforcement leaders towards goals of safety and communication,” the agreement stated.

The document included signatures from St. Joseph County Sheriff Michael Grzegorek, South Bend Chief of Police Darryl Boykins and Indiana State Excise Police District Commander Lt. Tim Cleveland. Notre Dame Security Police Chief Phillip Johnson and Vice President of Student Affairs Fr. Tom Doyle also signed the agreement.

Student body president Catherine Soler added her signature to the document to represent future students in her current position.

After a spike in off-campus arrests in the fall, Soler and her administration reached out to local law enforcement on behalf of the student body.

“We all felt that it really made a difference for students to interact with police officers,” she said.

Soler said the agreement lays a foundation for a good relationship between students and local law enforcement in the future.

“[This relationship] has to be a priority,” she said. “This affects so many people, students on-campus and off-campus, the administration, the community.”

Doyle said the agreement built a foundation for the leadership of future student government administrations.

“As new student leaders are elected each year, they will reap the benefit of the bridge building done by Catherine, Andrew and Nick and the dedication of Chief Boykins, Sheriff Grzegorek, Lieutenant Cleveland and Chief Johnson,” he said. “It will be up to successor student government leaders and students to preserve and enhance the advances that made this agreement possible.”

The parties who signed the agreement committed to meet at least three times each year. The meetings will be held in August and January to begin each semester. An additional meeting will be held in April during student government turnover to facilitate the transition between old and new administrations.

Student body vice president Andrew Bell said outgoing and incoming leaders would be present at the April meeting.

“[The signers] will meet once in April as a transition meeting, and that is important because we have developed good relationships with certain law enforcement officers but we aren’t going to be in those meetings in the future,” he said. “So that April meeting is to pass the torch on so that our relationships that we formed can hopefully lay a foundation for the relationships in the next administration.”

Educating students about safety and local laws is a significant part of student government’s commitment to law enforcement leaders.

The agreement states that student government will “coordinate programming events to introduce new students to law enforcement expectations and practices.”

Student government also pledged to coordinate events for off-campus students to ensure good neighbor relations.

Bell said meetings this year with administration were a source of information on both sides.

“It just makes sense. They give us suggestions, and we pass those on to students,” he said. “We give them the student perspective on things. Students don’t want to be antagonistic when you come into an apartment, but when a student doesn’t know what’s about to happen, tensions can come up.”

Bell said student government should reach out to students across different mediums to education them about safety issues. This past year, student government sent informational emails to the student body with safety tips for the weekend, but they also hosted discussions for face-to-face meetings between local law enforcement and students.

“I think big programming events though focused on this can give students the opportunity to meet law enforcement outside the spectrum of being in trouble,” Catherine said. “That is really helpful and beneficial.”

Chief of staff Nick Ruof said the meetings could help avoid future negative interactions between students and police.

“Out of this we want this to be a proactive body, to stop the problems before they actually happen,” he said. “We don’t want another outbreak [of arrests] like we had in September and August so we feel like a table with everybody talking will be a place where we can work out the kinks before they happen.”

Doyle said the agreement signifies good will between law enforcement and students. “There now exists a new opportunity for students to be in forward-thinking partnerships as they seek to be good citizens and neighbors with those who live beyond the borders of our campus,” he said.

Soler said future student body leaders should approach law enforcement with both respect and persistence.

“You have to take the perspective of being a respectful member of the South Bend community,” she said. “We were humble in these meetings but also assertive about the needs of the student body.”

The current administration will meet in coming weeks with incoming student body president Pat McCormick, vice president Brett Rocheleau and local law enforcement for the April meeting planned in the agreement.