Mason police, Fairfax police discuss public’s trust in law enforcement
BY EDNA MCCLUNG
The Eta Delta Delta chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., along with student government, hosted an open dialogue with police officers called “Cops in the Community” Tuesday, March 7.
Topics discussed at the event included trust, fostering relationships, the national climate and its impact, minority groups, sexual assault and prevention, and how these issues impact the relationship between cops and the local community.
Isaiah West, president of Omega Psi Phi’s Eta Delta Delta chapter, moderated the event, which was also coordinated with University Life’s Vice President Rose Pascarell, Associate Vice President Pam Patterson and Assistant Vice President Kahan Sablo. Chief of Police at Mason Carl Rowan, Captain Dan Grimm from Fairfax City Police and Major Rich Perez from Fairfax County Police were the panel representatives for the local police force.
Prior to the event, student government and Eta Delta Delta sent out a survey to the Mason community to gauge their level of trust in law enforcement and received 267 responses. The survey included two broad questions: how much do students trust police on a national level and how much do they trust police at Mason? Rating between one and five, five being the highest level of trust, most students put number five as their answer for both questions.
West’s first question focused on how police are actively fostering relationships with the Mason community. Rowan said, “Our mission is to keep the campus safe and to keep you safe… my office is always open; come by the station and just say you want to see the chief.”
The next question addressed the national climate on policing and its impact on the local level, specifically local police officers’ perceptions of that climate, and the steps being taken to train officers and create an inclusive environment.
Perez said that at the county level, changes are being made along these key themes: increasing transparency within the department, prioritizing the sanctity of all human life, de-escalating conflicts to ensure fewer fatalities and training officers in critical decision making.
At the city level, officers discuss things that are going on and look at both what is being done correctly and what needs to improve, including policy and training.
In addition, diversity training, reality-based crisis prevention training and critical decision-making training are required and in high demand by officers, who want to represent the community and work hard to maintain a high level of trust with students and residents.
Perez said that the county police are currently aware that immigration and an increase in gang activity within the community are important concerns for residents.
West next focused discussion on preconceived notions of minority groups and reported incidents of officers using racial, ethnic or gender slurs and how these incidents are managed.
Rowan, Grimm and Perez concurred that they have not seen any of these incidents and that there is zero tolerance for these types of incidents. Fairfax City and County have a very stringent vetting process for applicants, and they only retain the best people as officers, Grimm and Perez said.
In addition, “Good cops generally do not want to work with bad cops,” Rowan said.
On policing sexual assault, Rowan said that Mason’s police department takes every incident very seriously and that a major factor is alcohol.
“At GMU, the numbers going back for several years indicate that sexual assaults on this campus are directly linked to alcohol consumption,” Rowan said.
Sexual assault is not an incident that is handled at the city patrol level; however, patrol officers are trained on how to effectively deal with victims of sexual assault and how to notify someone from the criminal investigations division that is experienced with handling such incidents.
For example, once a victim seeks police help, the police reach out to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, specially trained medical personnel that deal specifically with the physical and emotional trauma of the victim. Perez further noted that the collection of evidence from a sexual assault victim is then stored for approximately two years, allowing the victim time to decide whether they want a criminal proceeding to take place.
Next, the audience asked how the police prevent sexual assault. Rowan said that this is something the police department is talking to the Mason administration about and added they want to reach out to incoming freshmen students as much as possible, because they make up the majority of sexual assault victims.
Perez then offered some advice when asked what someone should do when pulled over by someone they cannot readily identify as a real officer. He said if there is any doubt, you should stop at a safe, lighted area and call dispatch—the non-emergency number is (703) 691-2131—and ask if the person behind you is in fact a police officer. Once you have provided your location, dispatch will be able to tell you immediately whether the person is a real officer.
Under the final category of fostering police engagement with the Mason community, Rowan said that Mason students are quite open, welcoming and reasonable. At the city level, officers enjoy a productive relationship with elected officials, residents, business owners and even visitors.
“We have been very lucky in that regard, but we continued to work at it,” Grimm said. Perez said, “We don’t want to lose that number five rating.”