Students, security, police need to strengthen relationship rapport

The relationship between the Williams campus, Security and the Williamstown police force is often viewed by the college community as strained. These views may stem from an incident last October, when police arrested an intoxicated student for stealing a street sign, and investigated the party where the student said he had procured alcohol. Charges were later filed against several employees of the security department.

David Murphy, the Security shift supervisor since January, said he felt the police “overreacted,” trying to put the Security officers in a precarious position. He said the charges were not legitimate and that this was the police’s method of trying to alter Williams party policy, taking the Security department out of the equation and making the guidelines for parties stricter.

Dan Anello ’98 sees the actions of the police in regards to the party policy as detrimental to the campus as far as the students are concerned. “When I was a freshman and a sophomore,” Anello said, “they pretty much left people alone. After the incident in October, they have become a lot more involved in what is going on here and made things a lot stricter.” Regarding the effect on campus life, he responded, “It makes it worse. Regardless of what policies are inflicted, students are going to find ways to get themselves alcohol and when they do, they have less protection than before. With security monitoring parties, someone could be taken to the health center or hospital if they drank too much. Now, they could be off somewhere by themselves drinking so they won’t get caught and if they get sick, there might not be anyone around to help them.”

Others, however, are more ambivalent about the Williamstown police. Osagie Ighodaro ’99 said, “They may have followed me or my friends once or twice, but I can’t remember anything of importance.” Dedrick Muhammad ’95, Interim Director of the Multicultural Center said, “They may have seen a few of my friends acting up, then kept an eye on them, or you if you were around them, but nothing more than that. I never had any personal encounters with them.”

Jean Thorndike-Wilson, Director of Security, offered her perspective on the relationship between the campus and the police. “The incident at Agard in October was the biggest event of note this year,” she said. She added that the police and security do have a smooth working relationship, stressing that “it is important that it is [a good working relationship].” She said the police have always given their assistance in a fire or medical emergency. She noted the distinct difference between the two organizations: Williams security has no police authority and works for the College, while the police work for the commonwealth. The police have to enforce laws for the commonwealth and look out for the interests of the entire town, not just the college and the college community. Thorndike-Wilson said there has been positive interaction between the police and security, pointing to last summer when one police officer attended a three-day bike school that had instructors from other colleges and universities, as well as members of Williams security.

As far as how students encounter the police, she said, “Depending on the situation, a student may have as bad an incident with Security as [they] do with the police. Students have good and bad experiences with Security and with the police.” She said students are arrested when their conduct warrants such an action. At times, charges have been pressed and students have had to go to court to handle the matter. She does not see it as going beyond this point. “I don’t think anybody is looking to give college students a criminal record.”

When they go to court, students are usually given a probationary period and then the incident will be stricken from their record. Thorndike-Wilson has seen students at North Adams in similar situations and said they are treated in the same manner. “If a major felony is committed, then obviously action is to be taken, but otherwise there is usually nothing drastic done.” Joan Anton, switchboard dispatcher, has worked in security since 1989 and has had little contact with the police, except for “calling them when an ambulance is needed.” She said she has had no problems in dealing with them.

Murphy has worked in security for 14 years and said he has had “several dozen” encounters with the police and that over the course of those years that things have gone well, although there have been some ups and downs. Murphy said he feels the police may have the perception that their main concern on campus is to arrest underage drinkers, while he sees education as a better solution. Thorndike-Wilson notes that there is some tension between the two sides, as there would be between any different branches of law preservation, but they try to come to terms, “for the benefit of the students.”

“There isn’t much of a relationship between the police department and security; they serve different functions,” Chief of Police John M. Kennedy said. “Lately, it has been quiet around here, nothing new.” When asked about the incident in October, he said there had been others like it, and sign-stealing was not a serious offense. Kennedy said he understands that this is college life and alcohol is to be expected and acknowledged that, “there is a pretty good bunch of people coming out of there [Williams].” Most of the incidents involving the police are due to breaking and entering, “no big-time criminals.”

He said students often leave their rooms unlocked or their possessions lying around, and as a result it is relatively easy to steal something of value. Kennedy said the police have a tough job to do and an ever tougher image to deal with. “We’re here for a reason, to serve the students and town as a whole. We’re in the negative business. The police are not always seen in a positive light.”

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