By: Grace Hagan – Print Editor-in-chief
Last Tuesday, Flyer News sat down with Rodney Chatman, UD’s executive director of public safety and chief of police. Chatman, a 26 year veteran of law enforcement, took over his position in January. His previous college campus policing experience was at the University of Cincinnati. In the policing profession at large, Chatman found something lacking in the conversation about community policing. “I always thought community policing was something that you are, and it’s more of an identity of who you are and not something you do,” Chatman said.
After 10 years at Cincinnati, Chatman traveled north to the land of community: the University of Dayton. Over the years, what Chatman has found most important on college campuses is that students really want to know their police. “When you come to Dayton and Dayton is so focused on community,” Chatman said, “that really resonated as something that attracted me here because I’ve always said that you can’t police a community unless you’re part of that community.”
In line with his focus on community, Chatman worked to develop new public safety initiatives that address student concern and foster communication between the University’s students and law enforcement officers.
Lights on cruisers
One of the things that Chatman, along with police departments worldwide, hears is a call for more visibility. In the past, Chatman has engaged in high visibility patrol techniques, but often officers blended in with students or people would miss seeing the officer if they were distracted by their phones or general conversation. In an effort to respond to the continued desire for police visibility, UD Public Safety has introduced a steady burn concept where the red and blue lights are lit on the light bar. These low watt LED lights are continuously lit on top of police cruisers. “When they’re on, they are a force multiplier,” said Chatman.
The aim is for the cruisers to be visible to students around campus and for students to be comforted knowing that wherever there is a light, there is a person there too. The presence of the lit cruisers should be especially prevalent at nighttime, especially in the student neighborhood.
Chatman explained that the steady burn concept works on both ends of the safety spectrum. On the one hand, it comforts students with the increased visibility of the cruisers. On the other hand, the lights alert those with bad intentions to the police presence too. “If there’s anyone that wants to come into our neighborhood and do anything that runs afoul of the law, they look up and everywhere they look, ‘My God, there’s a police car there, there’s a police car there…’”
Workshop addressing bias
This fall, the Public Safety Department will take part in a series of workshops to receive cutting edge training designed to educate the University’s police department on implicit and explicit bias. The idea of ‘fair and impartial’ policing will be broken down into three segments. First, it discusses the science of implicit and explicit bias and how it impacts police work. Second, supervisors will have a separate training on how to evaluate police officers and develop programs that respect the dignity of everyone. “All of which,” Chatman said, “line up with our Marianist charisms here.” Finally, the third part of the training will involve the command staff of the police department and stakeholders in the University. Decision makers across campus, police and non-police alike, will come together “so we can have a sustainable model going forward on how we address issues of bias in our daily work of providing a more inclusive environment, community-wise here at UD,” said Chatman.
This series of workshops will take place across September and October.
New diversity and inclusion officer
Public Safety has taken on Tanya Williams as the diversity and inclusion recruitment officer. She comes to UD with experience with Cincinnati PD where she was part of a task force to recruit, retain and build a model of recruitment and retention for minority and underrepresented police officers. She will continue that work here at UD.
In January and February of next year, two majors will retire. “Tanya will be here and in place […] to help us get a more diverse group of applicants to fill those critical roles in these critical times of police and community relations,” said Chatman.
Chatman stressed that Public Safety’s focus on diversity and inclusion is not a token approach where applicants are simply given a job for the sake of checking a box. The goal is to get qualified, dynamic pools of people. Chatman explained, “You may not get a woman out of that pool, you may not get an African American out of that pool, but you’re getting a person who respects the charisms and mission for this university, and that they can carry that work that we’re doing forward.”
BBQs and more
Every week, most likely every Wednesday, students will see a police officer in one of the dining halls on campus around lunch or dinner time. The purpose is to have an officer in shared spaces with students. “If the students want to approach the officer and talk, ask questions or engage, that’s what the officer is there for,” Chatman said. “If everyone walks by and says hello, that’s fine also, but we need to be out in your space where you can see, interact with us, and we can get to know one another.”
Chatman also plans on having a barbeque, another intentional engagement between officers and UD students. The barbeque will be at 461 Kiefaber. Chatman wants to use 461 Kiefaber more often, seeing as Public Safety is a bit off the beaten path with their Fitz Hall location. Many of these engagement activities that Public Safety has planned may not have a particular message lesson plan attached. Chatman’s goal? “We want to demystify this uniform.”
The goal is for the students to see police officers as people, and vice versa. “At the barbeques and other things that we do, there may not be safety messages talked about,” said Chatman, “but it may be that you get to play corn hole with us and we get to play corn hole with you, or just slapping high fives or whatever it may be. Just getting to know one another because we are community.”
Visit FlyerNews.com to learn about other public safety initiatives, including a citizen policing academy and new procedures for officers to keep up with constantly changing laws and ordinances. The full interview is available online.