By CAITLIN WILLIAMS
As college communities nationwide respond to a spate of recent school shootings, UMW Police Chief Mike Hall is working to improve safety on our UMW campus. The main focus of his plan includes the building of interactions between students and the police force. “There is always room for improvement when it comes to the safety of the community,” Hall said. “We are always looking for new ways to do things.”
Hall has long used an approach he calls community policing. Rather than using strict techniques often incorporated by state police departments, he UMW Campus Police Department instead tries to a friendly presence on campus.
Before coming to the university, Hall served in the local Fredericksburg police department for 15 years, while he spent another 10 with the Virginia State Police, Narcotics Division. Hall first came to work for the University Police in 2009 as a police officer, though he was quickly promoted within that same year to lieutenant colonel. He was appointed police chief in June, 2013.
In order to reinforce community-lead effort toward maintaining safety, Hall plans to implement the “Hall Program.” In the program, an individual officer would be assigned to a residence hall with the purpose of talking to the residents and forming stronger relationships with them.
“There is a different scope or mission here whereas outside law enforcement has their priorities and how they do things,” Hall said. The department is also taking advantage of new technology to keep students safe.
Widely known, the UMW campus just provided a new, updated version of the “RAVE Guardian” app, which was introduced at the beginning of the fall semester. The app can track its users walking routes, provide them with a direct line to the dispatchers at the police department and allows for text messaging dispatchers directly, in case of a situation when a student cannot be heard or seen on their phone.
The department is also looking into brightening blue police phone lights on campus so students can better identify locations where they can get in contact with the police force.
Hall says other safety measures that have long been used by police will stay in effect. For example, the school has a UMW Alert system, which lets users receive emails, text messages and calls about any situation occurring on campus.
These safety measures give the students the chance to remain in the loop when unexpected events occur, from crime to weather. The police department will also continue to offer self-defense classes, referred to as Rape Aggression Defense classes which are open to both students and the general public.
Cedric Rucker, dean of Residence Life, said that he stands behind efforts by police officers to make themselves more approachable.
In support of this, Kayleigh West, a junior at UMW, said she felt that police officers do a good job of making themselves seen and seem approachable. However, West provided that, she feels “like there are some places around campus that could have more lighting and possibly a police blue phone.”
Similarly, Margaret O’Connor, a sophomore at UMW, said that even though the campus is well-lit at night, it can still feel unsafe.
“I don’t really see [police officers] on campus often. It would be nicer to see them but they don’t really talk to me unless I talk to them first.” Officer Hall responds that there are always more improvements to be made around campus and the community.
“The safety programs we have, the alert systems that we do, the notifications that we do, the extra patrols we do, the adopt-a- halls that we do, the RAD program for self-defense that we provide, the lighting and blue light systems that we have- all those things we are constantly evaluating to see if they are being successful,” Hall said.