The Davidsonian

Davidson Police SUV parked outside of Tomlinson

Sounding the Siren: Students Examine Campus Policing

Brigid McCarthy ’25 (She/Her), Co-Editor-in-Chief

 Inside the Alvarez College Union last Thursday evening, a group of students assembled to protest the Deliberative Citizenship Initiative (DCI). As discussions began between protestors and DCI organizers on the third floor, campus police officers arrived on the scene. 

“Typically we sort of know who’s going to be involved in protests. But the flyers didn’t say who was responsible for it. The whole time, we didn’t really know what was going to happen. So in that case, I called campus police,” Mike Goode ‘83, Director of the Union and of Student Activities, explained. “I said, ‘so we’ve got this thing that might be happening, we really don’t know, because we don’t know who’s behind it or how many people are excited about this.’”

A few weeks ago, police officers were in Union for another reason. Oğuzhan Colkesen ‘23 attended Union Board’s ‘Disco Fever’ event at the beginning of the semester, on September 3. While enjoying free pizza with friends, he noticed two police officers looking down from the top floor at all of the students below.

“There’s this increased presence on campus,” he insisted. “It felt really weird. And they seemed very out of place. I’ve been here for four years and I’ve never seen something like that before.”

When asked to respond to student comments about increasing policing on campus, Campus Police Chief Julian B. Coaxum said “that’s a good thing.”

“With the world that we live in nowadays, we want to be as proactive as possible. We want people to see officers, and to be able to have that comfort to know that we are here supporting the campus,” Coaxum said. “We’ve managed to increase our own in-house staffing, to the point where we don’t have to utilize external, private police anymore. So we’re at the point now, where we’re almost 100% fully staffed for the first time since I’ve been here in almost three years […] since January of 2020. So [students] probably see more officers on campus because we have more officers working.”

Years of prominent police violence have spurred activists—and students—to turn policing into a discussion rather than a definitive, to critically think about the relationship between the police and the community. 

With a robust register of student Risk Management at events, new precedents for widespread Green-Dot certification, and expanded mental health resources, the role of the police on campus is suddenly contested.

Policing On-Campus 

Goode emphasized that campus police, in conjunction with the Student Activities Office and the Title IX Office, function as another campus resource aiming to create ideal environments in and out of the classroom.

“I think a lot of these different offices are really all working towards the same thing, which is an educational environment at Davidson that is exceptional,” he said. “We [Student Activities] rely on [campus police] for expertise in risk management, assessment, stuff like that.”

Outside of campus events, campus police are tasked with a variety of responsibilities. Coaxum explained that a typical day’s work can include anything from medical calls and Residence Life Office (RLO) assistance to drug and alcohol law violations. He also said, however, that since police officers are only employed by Davidson College and function under the state, they enforce “the law, not policy.”

“We assist agencies or offices on campus, like RLO, or the Dean of Students Office, but we as the police department do not enforce college policy,” he said.

Interestingly enough, policing is still inextricably linked to college policy, most notably in the form of Patterson Court Council (PCC) event populations. Coaxum clarified that while the campus police department doesn’t utilize external police officers anymore day-to-day, larger events require a larger police presence. Events on campus receive auxiliary security support from the outside when needed or mandated, like during the “Steph Curry For 3” ceremony, or Spring Frolics… or during a social event on Patterson Court with 80 people or more. 

Policing Off-Campus 

Thatcher Craig ‘24, a social chair for Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, encountered this policy for the first time while planning an event on WildcatSync. Just to be safe, he indicated that the event would have a lot of people in attendance and was surprised to receive a message from Goode the next day directing him to bring a check for $160 to Student Activities. The fee would cover the cost of an officer for the event. 

“Once you get above 80 people, and it’s open and it has alcohol, then we require an officer to be there,” Goode said. “The officer for the party is somebody who comes in to work the event. And that’s why there’s this additional cost, because the college wouldn’t have been paying that person […] It’s not new at all, really.”

Frustrated by the process and the policy, Craig ended up not following through with planning.

“It was so last minute that the eating house we were trying to have it with couldn’t even host with us,” he said. “And we weren’t going to pay $160 to have a cop sit there.”

Craig estimated the frat’s social budget for the semester—the money used for decorations and, also, for police officers—to be around $1000.

“It’s part of our budget, which is through dues,” Craig said, “so students would be paying for a cop to be there.”

At Rusk Eating House’s Rodeo party on Friday, September 23, campus police came by to shut down the site. 

“For events that are 60 to 80 people, you only need five risk managers. And then for events above 80 people you need to have five risk managers and then a police officer,” said Trixie MacNeill ‘25, Assistant Treasurer of Rusk Eating House, who worked as a Risk Manager at the event. 

The social chairs, MacNeill recounted, registered the event on WildcatSync as one not needing an officer on site. Surveying a growing population, the party came to a close by campus police’s hand.

“[Campus police] must have shown up for the first time at 10:15 [p.m.]. And they just walked in, said ‘hi,’ did a survey, I guess confirmed that there were not a whole bunch of people in the house, and then left. And then they showed up an hour later, probably 11:30 [p.m.]. And they did the same thing, did a quick survey of the house, and then came right out to me and said, ‘so we have a problem.’”

The Rusk Rodeo—one of a few shut-down events across Patterson Court this semester so far—ended at around 11:45 p.m., just fifteen minutes before the planned midnight cutoff. 

MacNeill maintained that the officers had clear communication with her in the moment, but policy policing jurisdiction remains radically unclear. When asked to comment on this enforcement of college policy rather than coded law, Coaxum connected it to an ongoing relationship with RLO. 

Examining Effectiveness 

“When I was a student at Davidson, we had people from off campus come to parties and create fights. And I know that’s happened since I’ve been working at Davidson. It’s pretty rare, but it happens,” Goode said. “Part of what campus police can do is be there […] Usually just by their presence there, that kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”

A student who wished to remain anonymous sent in a statement about her experiences with campus police, echoing what Goode said.

“Campus police improves my feelings of safety and security at PCC events. Knowing that they are there to help in cases of emergencies makes my experience at events more enjoyable,” she wrote. “I never feel threatened by their presence or that the goal of campus police is to punish students. Instead, I’ve always seen them as a resource that can be called upon to prevent situations getting to really dangerous levels.” 

Coaxum explained the intensive training officers endure to meet job requirements, both of physical strength and emotional preparation. Still, many students remain dissatisfied. 

Colkesen talked about a lack of follow-up or results from the police on the question of his missing, and presumably stolen, bicycle. Additionally, Lauren Collver ‘25 spoke about the aid, or lack thereof, provided by a campus police officer in one of the first weekends this semester. After the officer came over to assist a potential alcohol poisoning case, Collver explained how the whole thing felt incredibly “procedural,” and wondered if there could ever be an emphasis on non-police resources. 

“It was very clear that no one in that situation felt safe with that officer there. No one felt comforted by that officer,” she said. “All we needed in that situation was someone who could tell when medical attention had to be called. And the police didn’t need to be the ones to do that.”

The 2022 Annual Security and Fire Safety report detailed that for the past three years, the majority of campus policing has focused on drug and alcohol apprehensions, with 440 liquor law violations and 66 drug law violations on the main campus over a three-year period. Collver emphasized that if the helping figure in an escalated moment is also someone with the power to punish, it adds discomfort to the situation at hand.

“She’s saying, ‘am I gonna be trouble? Am I gonna get a strike? Are they like, are they gonna be like, upset with me?’ And so I’m asking the officer, I’m saying, ‘she’s going to the hospital, she’s getting medical attention. So she’s not getting in trouble, right?’ And all he says to me is ‘It depends on what age she is.’ Nothing else,” Collver said. 

Claudia Garcia-Rojas is an activist, journalist, and visiting assistant professor in the Africana Studies department. She is a scholar of race, domestic security, and ecologies of warfare. Amid discourse between students and administration on the place of police here at Davidson, she defined what she believes to be the real issue at hand. 

“Some of the things that come up sometimes, like fights breaking out […] obviously, you don’t want that to happen, but if it does, I don’t see how having a police officer who is armed with a weapon in these spaces is necessary,” she said. “Having a security guard, or a police officer in these spaces, will radically shift how students interact, how students feel that they can be around each other. And not for the better. I think that it’s intimidating.” 

The Davidson College campus police’s website reads, “Campus police employ a community-oriented policing and problem solving approach to law enforcement and crime prevention. Community-oriented policing is a philosophy, a management style and an organizational design that promotes police-community partnerships and proactive problem-solving strategies.”

Garcia-Rojas added, “For some people, it’s not just intimidating, but it’s a threat, based on the simple fact that police to certain groups represent a certain thing. For a majority of Black people, cops don’t represent safety, they represent life or death.” 

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