By: Joan Masters, University of Missouri
Upon reflection of his work as an inventor, Alexander Graham Bell once wrote, “Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds.” In our peer education and prevention efforts, we know the value of teamwork and work daily to ensure that our student groups work well in cooperation and collaboration. However, we often spend little time considering those outside our peer education groups. What about those who interact with students daily on issues related to those we educate about? Are we really reaching out to those who sit on the front lines of our colleges and universities to help ensure a safe environment for our students?
Whether your peer education group deals with issues such as alcohol and other drug use, healthy relationships, violence and sexual assault, or sexual health issues, it is important to recognize that campus and community law enforcement are an essential partner for your work.
I have to admit, when I was a student peer educator, working with law enforcement scared me a little. After all, I made good choices and lived a healthy lifestyle so that I could avoid the police. However, since starting to work with law enforcement and hearing the stories about their work, I came to appreciate how much they could help me in my efforts to make my campus safer.
Sometimes on a college campus, we tend to get stuck in our singular worlds: peer education and prevention provides outreach programs and activities and law enforcement “catches the bad guys”. In fact, we think we are collaborating simply because we are doing similar work at different points in time. However, we often make a big mistake when we engage in that assumption. In fact, law enforcement or campus public safety can be helpful to our peer education in a variety of ways you may not have explored yet. Some ideas to consider:
Training for Peer Educators: Invite law enforcement or public safety professionals into your regular training for peer educators. Many of them are certified professionals trained in a variety of topics such as drug recognition or handling conflict.
Co-Present: Consider law enforcement and public safety representatives as valuable co-presenters. Co-presenting with law enforcement can help get important information to students and show your fellow college students that you respect and appreciate the police presence on campus.
Host a monthly meeting: Invite law enforcement or public safety representatives to your local campus-community coalition or campus task force meetings. Or, encourage your peer educators to host a conversation with law enforcement on a monthly basis so that they can find out about the newest trends and peer educators can get updated on what law enforcement is seeing on campus. Invite police from your city or town who can give you a perspective on off-campus student behavior.
Participate in “community policing”: Start a community policing program in your residence halls or dorms. Walk through halls with police and help students get their questions answered about laws and campus policies. This type of outreach cuts down on policy and law violations and helps students feel safer in their environment.
At first, engaging partners can be scary and intimidating. However, in my experience, law enforcement and public safety officials are willing partners that would love to hear more about your peer education efforts. I work with law enforcement on a daily basis and when I asked them what they want students and advisors to know, here are just a few things you might find interesting and helpful to your work.
- They don’t always want to be “the bad guys”. In all my years of partnering with law enforcement, I have learned a big lesson: members of law enforcement are very nice people. They have families, lives, and many of them used to be college students. They entered their profession to help people stay safe, not just arrest people.
- They do not love getting students in trouble. Most law enforcement and public safety professionals I know do not celebrate every time they give a student a ticket for alcohol consumption or drugs. They know that the ticket will have consequences for the student and they would rather help prevent the situation than respond to an emergency call or a violation.
- They want to help, but they don’t always know about campus programming. They want to know about you and your efforts and they want to help you, but if you don’t take the opportunity to reach out and educate them, they might never know how great it would be to work with you.
- They have a lot to learn (and we do too). Members of law enforcement have tremendous skills, resources, and knowledge that peer educators and advisors can use to make our programs and outreach efforts better. On the flip side, law enforcement love to hear from students about what they think the emerging issues are and how they can prevent crime from happening.
Whether you work or serve as a peer educator at a campus with two public safety officers or a fully accredited police force, a great opportunity awaits you. If you are already partnering- great! Think of ways to expand your partnership. If you are not, stop and think: what if I could reach more students, save more lives, and change more behavior by making one single phone call? I think you probably already know the answer.