Southern hopes police visibility will create trust, safer community
BATON ROUGE, LA (NBC33) — Dozens of police officers and sheriff's deputies converged on Southern University Wednesday evening. Nothing was wrong, but by showing up, they hope to keep students safe and happy all year long.
SUPD hosted the third annual Keep Jags Safe night. Also included were the Baton Rouge, Baker, and Zachary police departments, the Baton Rouge Constable's Office, East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, Louisiana State Police, and East Baton Rouge EMS.
"One of the things we want students to know when they come to Southern University is that they can feel safe on our campus community," said Marcus Coleman, Souther's Dean of Students.
The various agencies brought special vehicles to display in front of three dorms. Given its location in the north part of Baton Rouge, some Southern students enroll with questions about crime in the neighborhood.
"One of the things that we try to address up front through our 365 Jag orientation sessions are the safety concerns," Coleman said. "You know, Souther University's no different than any other campus in the country. We have our issues; we do have some crime. But that's no different; that's an issue across higher education."
"It's not issues that we can't handle," added SUPD Chief Joycelyn Johnson, "but I think it's issues that, if we address them together, they'll come out with the result that they want. And us, too."
There were no formal activities during the event, but lots of casual conversations between officers and students.
"We're out here to give answers," Chief Johnson explained. "We're out here to encourage them, if you have a problem, you can go to this person, that person; don't be afraid. Someone is here, and we'll help them get through whatever situation it is."
Classes just started on Monday, but Southern did not want to waste any time building the relationship between students and law enforcement.
"It's a long semester," Coleman stated. "Particularly in the fall semester, with football, so many different activities going on campus. That first week is just a perfect opportunity."
Chief Johnson believes students have grown more comfortable in using their voice since the event was created in 2012.
"Also, I believe, when we encourage them and let them know that it's not about judging them or not believing them, I think we're working together," she said. "You trust in me, and I'm gonna do what I can do for you."
While SUPD is the primary on-campus law enforcement agency, the others will provide assistance, particularly for football games, so students will likely encounter all of them at some point. Encounters between students and SUPD officers have become much more common since a "walk and talk" policy was enacted recently. Officers are expected to "walk campus, walk between the dorms, meet the students on a regular basis," Coleman mentioned. "So it's a constant, constant image, constant patrolling, students constantly see our officers. So it's nothing new to them, they're just used to seeing them as a part of the campus community."
The Baton Rouge Police Department conducted a small amount of business during the event. Officers had a table with a signup sheet for students who have designs on a career in law enforcement after they graduate.