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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Community policing officer to be stationed at Wilson Library

Student pose with Officer Bianca Smith outside her new office in Wilson Library. // Photo by Camryn Urban

By Camryn Urban

A new Community Policing Office has officially opened in Wilson Library to increase University Police response times, as well as the safety and security of the community.

Staffed by Officer Bianca Smith, the program will revolve around police on campus building relationships and trust between students, faculty, staff and the community.

The program is a collaboration between the Dean of Libraries Mark Greenberg and the Chief of University Police, Darin Rasmussen. The origins of the program are rooted in efforts to create a safe atmosphere at Western.

“We’re always thinking, not just how to react when a situation occurs, but thinking about proactive steps we can take,” Greenberg said.

In its pilot weeks, the program has proved to ease the mind of employees at the library as well.

Madelyn Paige, a student and front desk attendant at the library said having Smith present adds an extra layer of comfort and safety for both students and employees.

“If we feel unsafe or anything, we can immediately talk to [Smith],” Paige said. “She just is the friendly face that just immediately kind of smooths over any kind of tense or weird situations we have.”

Officer Smith, who has been with the department for 18 years, has already been introducing herself to students and writing down or remembering their names, Paige said.

Despite the praise the new program has received, concerns have been raised from the Western community that a police officer stationed in the library is strictly a way of maintaining surveillance on the area.

Greenberg disagrees. He said student privacy is a top priority for the officers.

“The police are not there to watch any one individual, they’re not there in any way to interfere with or to break confidences or privacy,” he said. “The officers know how important peoples’ reading privacy and speaking privacy is.”

The additional visibility of police on campus is expected to help ward off unwanted incidents, of which there were two in the past year.

In May, a suspect was taken into custody and later charged after students witnessed him taking photos up the skirts of students at Wilson Library, according to a Western Front article.

Another incident occurred after midnight on Nov. 14, 2017, when a female student was groped after leaving Wilson Library, according to the Front.

According to Rasmussen, the success of the program will be monitored by seeing if calls decrease, specifically in and around library, and from anecdotal responses, noticing where this program really helped people and noticing potential pitfalls as well.

“The community polices itself to an extent, which is why we don’t have police officers on every corner, why we don’t have an army of police,” Rasmussen said. “Community policing is an interface between professionals from the police department and public safety and the community finding answers on ‘How do I keep myself safe?’”

Similar programs exist at other universities which focus on retention of school property. Often, these methods include the stationing of security guards at various entrance and exit points.

This is not the goal of Western’s program.

“We are trying to do more to help folks feel empowered, to watch for themselves, be aware for themselves, report and then have someone close by to provide a response,” Greenberg said.

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