Jacksonville State University is creating a center to help area law enforcement agencies better partner with their communities to solve problems and improve safety.
JSU officials say the center will train police officers to better interact with residents and offer courses to the community on how law enforcement agencies operate. The center’s establishment comes as state and federal governments are pushing for more community police training because of the rise in protests against law enforcement across the nation this year, university officials say.
JSU’s board of trustees approved the creation of the center last week. The center was established by the JSU Department of Criminal Justice in the School of Human Services and Social Sciences.
“It’s about bringing police and the community together,” Richard Davis, head of the JSU criminal justice department, said of the center’s goals. “And with the problem police are having across the nation reaching out to communities, we thought we could help facilitate some of that with research and assessments.”
Law enforcement agencies have faced protests across the U.S. this year over what some critics have called aggressive tactics and because of police shootings of minorities.
“Best practices in law enforcement is a hot topic right now and there’s a lot of interest at the federal and state level supporting it, which is what we’re hoping on,” Davis said.
Maureen Newton, dean of JSU’s School of Human Services, said having an established center would help the university obtain grants for it.
“That will provide funding for more training and conducting research ... offering continuing educational opportunities for law enforcement professionals,” Newton said.
Davis said the center would also offer forums for the community.
“We’d like to train law enforcement, but we also want to train the community in what police do,” Davis said.
Davis said the plan is to offer the center’s services mainly in Calhoun County first, then expand to other counties in the region as it grows. Davis said his department has yet to hash out details about the courses it would offer.
Davis said the center would spend its first year assessing the area’s policing needs, then build its training program around the findings. He noted though, that the center would likely follow the model of the criminal justice department's Center for Applied Forensics, which it established in 2011.
Area law enforcement agencies that partner with the forensics center each pay JSU an annual fee. In return, the university provides forensic services when needed.
Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge said his department makes good use of the forensic center and would be open to using the new best practices center.
Partridge said community policing is a hallmark of his department.
“The job is to know the community you're policing,” Partridge said. “If you're just staying in that police car, you're failing as a law enforcement agency.”
Calhoun County Sheriff Matt Wade said his office also uses the forensics center and would consider using the new center.
“More knowledge is good for everybody,” Wade said. “Knowledge is power.”
Wade said he also likes the community training component of the center.
“A lot of people don't even understand the difference between a sheriff’s office and a police department or understand police jurisdictions.”
Jacksonville police Chief Tommy Thompson said much training in best practices or community policing is relegated to higher ranked officers like himself.
“Chiefs have been getting that training at conferences for the last several years,” Thompson said. “If JSU could have more classes for all law enforcement officers, that would be great.”