Officer Friendly or Dirty Harry?
Considering the atmosphere of the 1970s, one might expect relations between campus police and students to be particularly strained. According to the officers themselves, however, this was not the case (Starling). For the most part students seemed to respect the officers and the work they do. To contrast with editorials referencing the “shoot first dirty harry” there are mentions of the “friendly campus policeman” This may be attributed to the respect the officers have for students.
In an interview with the Breeze, Officer Bob Baker talked about the steps he took to foster relationships with students when he first began working at Madison. For Baker it was as simple as walking around and talking to students. This simple action allowed him to get to know students and students to get to know him. Getting to know members of the police force on a personal level would make them more human in the eyes of students, and less like impersonal cogs in a judicial machine. Talking to students one on one also allows officers to get a better idea of the thoughts and feelings of the students, and of the issues that were important to them. Chief of Police Crider stated that the relationship between students and Campus Police was very good. He also said that students were very willing to cooperate with police (Starling).
In addition, Campus Police Officers were concerned firstly with the wellbeing of students. Their purpose is “”for the sole welfare, well being, and protection of students, faculty, staff, and property of Madison College”(Starling). The first thing they do is protect students, not punish them. They were more interested in making sure people were safe, than that every little infraction of the law was punished. In fact, most officers would rather not arrest students in most cases. Since they had the choice to go through either the city of Harrisonburg or the campus judicial system they would often choose the latter so as not give a student a permanent record. According to one officer this was usually enough to prevent the student from doing the same thing again, without having to have an arrest permanently show up on that student’s record.
This is not to say that all students were perfectly happy with the Campus Police. Some did not share the feelings of their fellow students. Some students thought that Campus Police were incompetent, lazy, or out to get students, especially when it came to parking violations. Campus Cadets were often the victims of harassment from students who saw them as traitors, selling out their fellow students to the cops. Letters to the Breeze often complained about Campus Police. One would complain about parking regulations not being enforced, and another would complain that officers did nothing but give tickets (Lawson and Parker). Obviously, letters to the editor are the result of much stronger feelings on the matter than most students probably had, but they still say a lot about the way people felt about campus security. Christopher P. Smith wrote one letter to the editor saying that campus police officers should not be allowed to carry guns, that they were “irresponsible” and “tactless,” and claiming that they had an “indignant attitude…towards the student body” (Smith).
Another letter, from Conrad Calanara, specifically argues against Smith, even implying that one of his arguments, that an officer had called him a “smart-assed student,” may have been deserved, or even may not have been directed at him at all. Calanara also brings up all the important and good things that the officers do, and says that they have helped him in his capacity as a residence hall staff member as well. Another article refutes one of Smith’s points, that campus police officers should not carry guns. The article points out that the guns are not meant to be used on students, but rather to protect students from outsiders. The author, David Hume, says that the nearby highway and the banks downtown could bring in undesirable people, resulting in the need for campus security to carry firearms.
The same us vs them mentality that shows up in that article applies to police as well. While the campus police were generally seen as part of the community, outside forces, like the city and state police, were less welcome on campus. Major issues tended to happen in their jurisdiction as well. One important drug arrest of two Madison students was made off campus by state police. Although the campus police department cooperated with the investigations, and Chief of Police Crider said they were bound by law to arrest someone caught using drugs(although he also makes clear that what they’re really looking for are the drug pushers), the driving force behind the arrests was the state police (O’Leary). This viewpoint extends both ways, and Harrisonburg city police do not always have the nicest view of Madison students. Even in an interview in which he talks about how few issues city police have with students, Harrisonburg Police Chief Richard Presgrave says “Students can’t run on campus and think it’s home base.” This statement shows at least a certain level of animosity for Madison students, characterizing them as childish (Elmore “City Police Change”).
Overall the mood at Madison towards Campus Police was better than at other colleges, and maybe even better than in the general population. Officers were able to interact in a friendly and personal way with students, and although they had their detractors, they had defenders as well.
Calanara, Conrad. “Campus Police Invaluable,” The Breeze, 6 February 1979, p.19.
Control #Prot01, JMU Historic Photos Online, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.
“Editorial Comments.” Genesis II, Madison College, Thursday, April 1, 1971. p1.
Elmore, Cindy. “City Police Change as Area Grows,” The Breeze, 4 December 1979, p. 11.
Lawson, Kris, and David Parker. “Maybe Some Day Security Will Learn,” The Breeze, 27 February 1979, p. 23.
“Narcotics Raids Nab Madison Students, Area Residents In State-run ‘Multi-Bust’” Genesis II, Madison College, Thursday, April 1, 1971. p2.
O’Leary, Timothy. “H’burg, Campus Enforces Drug Laws,” The Breeze, 2 September 1975, p.9.
Smith, Christopher P. “Security Irresponsible,” The Breeze, 2 February 1979, p. 22.
Starling, Wade. “Campus Security Operations – A Variety of Tasks,” The Breeze, 21 January 1975, p. 4.