WILLIMANTIC, CT (10/12/2017) Written by Jordan Corey
The contentious discussion of police brutality that has dominated American conversation in recent years has not been overlooked by the police department at Eastern Connecticut State University. Last week, University police officers emphasized the importance of maintaining a strong relationship with Eastern students by participating in National Coffee with a Cop Day and Eastern's monthly Blackout Day. Eastern's campus police used the two events to continue their open dialog with students regarding law enforcement practices.
Originating as part of the 2016 National Community Policing Week, National Coffee with a Cop Day (Oct. 4) has evolved into an international forum giving officers and citizens a chance to interact outside of hostile situations -- over a cup of coffee. Eastern's Coffee with a Cop event took place in the Student Center Café and featured Chief Jeffrey Garewski and Lieutenant Thomas Madera, along with officers Jennifer Murphy, David DeNunzio and Sergeant Steven Schneider. Garewski and Madera began by explaining how much the department values community relations, especially the connection between officers and students. "A lot of the students know us on a first-name basis," Madera pointed out.
The officers stressed that the goal is not to get students in trouble. They also described the type of person they seek when hiring new officers. One thing they look for is amicability, someone who grasps that they are working on a college campus and not on the streets. Because of this, the department takes its time reviewing applicants and hires new officers carefully. "I would rather go short-staffed than hire someone who won't work well with this population," said Garewski.
Garewski and Madera addressed questions regarding the ability of police officers to do their jobs as well. "A misconception, not just here but countrywide, is how we're trained," Madera commented. He elaborated by informing students that Connecticut is one of six states accredited by The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA). Qualifications needed to be an officer are not taken lightly. It is the only occupation in Connecticut where a polygraph test is mandatory, they also mentioned.
The officers additionally wanted attendees to know that the divide between law enforcement and the public taking place nationally is not lost on them and that they understand people's hesitation in talking with police at a gathering like Coffee with a Cop. Nonetheless, they hoped to highlight that while bad officers do exist, the media plays a large role in public perceptions and may focus on negative police work more than the positive. "People look at individuals as a group," Garewski said. He and Madera conveyed that above all else, Eastern police will continue to perform ethically and with the best interests of students in mind.
Later in the week, Eastern's Blackout Day created another opportunity for discourse between police and students, with Madera and DeNunzio as speakers. The event was organized to jumpstart conversation about police misconduct in a safe, comfortable environment. Statistics were presented concerning the number of people killed by police in 2014, particularly people of color. Students inquired about where the Department of Public Safety lands on the issue of racism affecting police work.
"Everybody shares the same rights," Madera said, affirming that the University's officers treat everyone equally. "Those are the types of officers that we hire." He explained that students are the ones who count more than anything else, reiterating that the department is selective in its hiring process for that reason. Not only do they look for officers who are able to unbiasedly work with a diverse group of students, but the department as a whole follows strict legal policies about racial profiling.
One student brought up the impact of frequently watching videos of police brutality in the news, drawing attention to the emotional toll that comes with it. The officers discussed the news media and its power, arguing that it often focuses on what will sell. "The video you're seeing is only part of the video," DeNunzio commented. The two stressed that while there are undoubtedly "bad apples" in law enforcement, as in any profession, it is a necessity to do research in these situations in order to have all the facts.
Madera and DeNunzio provided further insight on how Connecticut law enforcement operates as opposed to other states, touching on its in-depth police training process and the many procedures that must be followed when employed as an officer, from diversity training to practicing lethal force. Though the presence of racial profiling in the overall system is undeniable, the officers acknowledged, and while fixing it is a work in progress, Madera made the department's stance clear: "I will tell you this: not here. Not at Eastern. That's one thing I do not tolerate."
Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut's public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,400 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut's 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 20 other states and 29 other countries. A residential campus offering 39 majors and 65 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Eastern has been awarded "Green Campus" status by the Princeton Review seven years in a row. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu.