“Conversations can be a revolutionary act when done correctly,” Dayo Akinjisola said at the final Real Conversations at Home discussion, entitled “Community Conversations,” with URI Police on Oct. 26 at the University of Rhode Island.
Akinjisola, treasurer of Brothers On a New Direction (BOND), along with Naomi Thompson, the vice president of Community, Equity and Diversity and the Chief Diversity Officer, and Major Michael Jagoda of the URI Police facilitated this conversation. The discussion focused on the role of police officers at URI, police brutality in minority communities and police training to minimize conflict at URI.
“It’s about an opportunity for myself and my officers to listen to our community members and what their concerns are, how they’re feeling, good or bad about the police department and the way we police on the community,” Jagoda said.
Between 30 and 40 students, faculty and staff members assembled at Garrahy Hall to participate in this conversation. It was a diverse showing, as there were students with different majors, faculty with various backgrounds and officers in uniform, which enriched and added to the intimate living-room-style conversation.
This conversation began with a discussion of what community policing looks like on campus. Most people agreed that the officers on campus were approachable, helpful, very involved in the community and mentors to students. Unfortunately, the involved policing that takes place on campus does not occur in all communities outside of campus.
“The students that come on campus are away from their parents, so they need mentors and teachers, and it’s the same way back in the poor communities or in the black communities,” URI freshman Ty Silva said. “Even though they’re not on campus, they’re out in the streets on their own…The same way they [police] feel the need to help students on campus that’s the same way they need to help students in the streets.”
Other topics in this conversation included bad police officers, racism and police brutality, particularly in communities of color and in black communities. The foundation of these issues are implicit and explicit biases, which develop from lived experiences such as textbooks, interactions with parents, TV and social media.
“We’re socialized at a very young age in the school system who to trust and who not to trust…Some of us are perceived as a threat and it’s only being enforced by the school curriculum and its being enforced in society and in schools,” Earl Smith III, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said. “If we do not acknowledge that we are never going to get past this discussion.”
Smith’s statement brought up the point of the lack of trust in police officers. Many people at the event agreed that the media tends to focus on police conflict- as opposed to good policing.
“I think this is an important conversation, especially with the events that are happening because I feel like there’s a sense of nostalgia when you talk about police brutality,” Akinjisola said. “People are a little numb of black people getting killed. They are hearing it more and more and thinking about it less and less.”
The URI police officers undergo various trainings in order to minimize conflict and effectively control potentially dangerous situations. The four major areas that the URI police department focuses on are strong leadership, good policies, proper training and first line supervision work; when done correctly these tools help ensure that officers don’t impair with rights or freedoms of anyone on campus.
“We do all kinds of training both formal and informal,” Jagoda said. “Our role calls, our supervisors take a subject every month, we look at changes in state and federal laws and we update our training there. Recently we are working with members of the transgender community. We’ve done mental health training recently, bias policing, autism, implicit bias, domestic violence, sexual assault, fair impartial policing, drugs, active shooter, firearms [and more].”
University police work alongside various communities at URI to ensure a safe and welcoming campus. They work with the Women’s Center, the Gender and Sexuality Center, Talent Development, Multicultural organizations, as well as other organizations on campus.
Many people were happy with the outcome of this conversation and the people’s willingness to participate and give their thoughts in a respectable way.
“I was trying to get down to the point for people to realize that it is a systemic issue,” Akinjisola said. “It’s not just a surface level problem, it’s what this country was founded upon.”