Jim O’Neill officially took over as Chief of Campus Safety at Denison in the fall of 2018 with the hope of strengthening the relations between campus safety and the student body.
Of course, this is a task that is much easier said than done. On the issue of students’ negative perception of campus safety, O’Neill said, “A lot of people — when they think of Campus Safety or a law enforcement function in particular — have a real generalization about what that entails.”
It really is a remarkably difficult responsibility that O’Neill and his staff are choosing to take on. Changing the culture and the narrative behind campus safety at a small, tight-knit community like Denison is not going to happen overnight. This is something that O’Neill is well aware of.
“My goal here is to really expand our community outreach and develop a more holistic campus safety approach to what we do than just enforcing the rules and dealing with parties. We still want to maintain a presence with all of those things, but our goal is to engage with the students, engage with the faculty and staff and get voluntary compliance, which means we won’t have to deal with as much after-the-fact enforcement activity,” said O’Neill.
It’s certainly a fine line that O’Neill and his staff are forced to walk. Safety has to always be the first and foremost priority; however, they need to establish mutual trust with the student body to move away from the false perfection that they’re out to get the students.
O’Neill’s method of attack centers around voluntary compliance. By building a culture where the students understand and respect the rules and guidelines in place, O’Neill and his staff can avoid having to constantly play the role of the bad guys. They’re here because they are passionate about enforcing the law and keeping our community safe, not because they want to get college students in trouble.
O’Neill commented on the changes in personnel to his campus safety force that has a different makeup than in past years at Denison. “One of the things that we’ve done is we have really focused on expanding the backgrounds of the people that we’re hiring. We have hired people from a more diverse, first-responder background — we have a couple of firemen, a paramedic — we realize that most of our calls are not law enforcement-related. We deal with many more alcohol incidents where we need somebody capable of evaluating the physical nature of what’s going on,” said O’Neill.
Not only are they here to help students, but they are qualified to do just that. Shifting the narrative behind campus safety is not something that’s going to happen instantly. It’s a process that will require effort from everyone.
O’Neill spoke to the mentality that he and all of the campus safety officers are aiming to bring to work every day.
“We’re really focused in on stepping back from the traditional law enforcement stuff and getting to know these kids. If you don’t know them on a good day, you may not recognize when they’re having a bad day,” O’Neill said.
Do your part as a student and be open to bridging the gap between campus safety and the student body!