When Jacksonville State University students interact with law enforcement, police said, it’s typically after something bad has happened.
Which is why Jacksonville police Chief Marcus Wood said he was glad to take part in a meet-and-greet between Jacksonville police, university police and students Thursday on the school’s quad.
Members of a freshman honors English composition class taught by JSU professor Teresa Reed spent the fall semester organizing the meet-and-greet, and selling rubber bracelets to raise money for an Alabama nonprofit as part of a service project inspired by the themes of “The Hate U Give.” The book, a young-adult novel by Angie Thomas, examines race relations and police brutality.
The students set up a red-and-white striped tent and served pizza, drinks and cookies to officers and students Thursday morning.
According to Wood, Jacksonville’s city police mainly handle calls involving students who live off campus. Sometimes, he said, those students can be hesitant to talk to officers.
Freshman Carson Dickerson said in “The Hate U Give,” the main character’s friend is killed by a police officer. Dickerson said the officer’s name was rarely mentioned in the book, and he was mainly referred to by his badge number.
Dickerson said students realized that they didn’t know the names of any of their school’s police, and decided to change that.
Dickerson said the class was given the option of hosting the meet-and-greet with police, raising money for Faith in Action Alabama or setting up group counseling sessions for students.
Dickerson said he and his classmates voted to try all three.
Reed said she was proud of what her students accomplished through the project. She said her students saw a good turnout for the meet-and-greet and raised around $300 for Faith in Action.
While students were unable to get the counseling sessions organized Thursday morning, Reed said, they were still hoping to set one up later this semester.
Jason Sumner, the university police department’s communications supervisor, said the public can sometimes perceive police as unapproachable.
“I think this helps because students can have that one-on-one interaction with an officer outside of a need or a call for service,” Sumner said. “This is just a casual situation where they can have a conversation with an officer and maybe get to know them a little bit.”
Wood said he believed the meet-and-greet, and events like it, fostered a sense of trust and familiarity between officers and the public.
“A lot of college students have the ‘CSI,’ the ‘Blue Bloods’ and the reality TV portion of what law enforcement is about,” Wood said. “In situations like this, it really breaks that barrier down and they can ask those questions they’ve always wanted to answer.”
Sumner said the event also gave students room to give university police feedback and express concerns.
“We want to make sure our students understand that, if they have an issue, if they feel there’s something that needs to be addressed, they can come to us,” Sumner said. “We want to hear from them.”
Sumner said university police try to host a similar event each semester, but they decided to participate in the class event after hearing about it.
After 30 minutes on the quad, Wood and Sumner both said they had some good conversations with students. Sumner said he expected that maybe 100 students would approach the tent before 2 p.m., when the event was slated to end.
Freshmen Kara’Neisha Dumas and Morgan Hayes said they saw the event after leaving a class and were intrigued. Hayes said she learned a lot from talking with the officers.
“We like the fact that each one has the main goal of protecting and serving us,” Hayes said. “It makes it feel better on this campus, especially with a lot going on in the world.”