By Will Hammann
For The Diamondback
College Park community members and officers from the University of Maryland Police Department gathered Friday at the Memorial Chapel for an event looking to bring together law enforcement and residents.
The “Blessings of the Badge” event was part of a nationwide initiative called Faith & Blue Weekend, which aims to foster safe spaces to bring together police officers and residents. The event has been held at this university since 2021.
UMPD Chief David Mitchell told attendees he feels UMPD has a strong relationship with students, but acknowledged the department is not perfect.
“We run over 100,000 calls a year, just UMPD. We’re human. We occasionally make mistakes,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said UMPD is focusing on doing more than just reducing crime, which is why he values community outreach efforts such as Blessings of the Badge, where residents can build connections with law enforcement outside of police stations.
Alexandra DeBus, a senior biochemistry major and this university’s Student Government Association president, said she thinks UMPD is successfully fostering these personal connections.
“You can tell that UMPD here really has a community that contains a lot of empathy, a lot of care, especially for students and the surrounding CP community,” DeBus said. “They’re very open and willing to working with students and reaching out to students however they’re comfortable.”
DeBus also noted that UMPD is “very cognizant” of the varied feelings and experiences individuals at this university have with law enforcement.
In fall 2020, a group of Black student leaders at this university issued a list of 25 demands to administrators — including one that called for the university to redistribute funding from UMPD to other programs and groups. Another demand called for the removal of armed police officers from on-campus residence halls.
According to a dashboard maintained by this university, both of those recommendations are “in progress.”
For Imam Tarif Shraim, a Muslim chaplain at this university who spoke at Friday’s event alongside several other community religious leaders, face-to-face connection is the key to reconciling community differences when it comes to law enforcement.
Shraim says that it’s easy to develop a negative perspective on police because community members are “bombarded by stories of people that are not necessarily showing wisdom in how they interact with their community.” Shraim said.
“When you see the human face of another, and you hear the story, and the struggle of somebody, and you humanize them, it changes completely the dynamic and the relationship.”
UMPD Capt. August Kenner, too, emphasized the value of connection between UMPD officers and community members.
“Here, people see me and know me by first name. When you get to know your community, invest in your community and engage with your community, I think that’s important,” she said.