With race-related events like those in Ferguson and in Baltimore, police all over the country have had their actions watched closely.
The University of Rhode Island Police Department works toward a safe and peaceful campus through community policing. Police Major Michael Jagoda said they are always “under the microscope,” adding that he knows what it takes to make sure things run smoothly for all sides.
“As a leader in the organization, we have to push those important principles of professionalism,” Jagoda said. “Of treating people fair and equal, making a difference and just building the trust. Ethics is big. Doing the ethical thing out there is really big.”
Before Jagoda arrived as police major, a peaceful protest took place in front of the Memorial Union in response to the Ferguson ruling. The students stayed out there for four and a half hours, which was about the amount of time Michael Brown was left on the ground. Jagoda referred to this protest as very organized and very respectful.
“Everybody has the right to express their concerns, express their rights and I think as a police agency it’s our job to make sure they do that,” said Jagoda. “We need to protect them and make sure it’s safe for the whole community.”
He added that he believes the public knows that police are going to make mistakes and that they know if the police make mistakes they will correct them so they don’t happen again. Jagoda said that they have to look at Baltimore and other places and learn from them so they don’t make the same mistakes here.
Since Jagoda became the major in 2015, he has worked to make community policing in the department a prominent aspect. He said that their community policing policy has helped them with legitimacy in what they do in the department.
“We’re building those relationships, we’re building those bonds and those partnerships with our stakeholders and there’s a mutual respect,” Jagoda said.
He added that he hasn’t seen any problems in the URI community that reflect back to what has happened in the nation over the past few years, and that there hasn’t been one particular group that they have had concerns or issues with.
“I think collectively we go about it in that we treat everybody the same,” Jagoda said. “We treat everybody fair and equal. That’s how we work towards building trust and building being a legitimate police organization, and building that trust and confidence in the community we serve.”
When first being approached by any police officer, many people will start to think about what they did wrong. Here on campus, Jagoda wants everyone to know that the officers just want to engage with people. He said this is important because if they have a bigger issue, everyone will think it’s common seeing the officers around, which is why students see officers walking all over campus.
Jagoda also said the department faces two challenges. One being that there is a very diverse community at URI and that they do not know what everyone’s past experience is with police.
“You could have great experiences or you could’ve had negative experiences and we’re being judged on that,” Jagoda said. “So we have to start from the grassroots to build that trust and confidence. My question to you is that ‘Why in policing right now – where we’re so advanced, our officers are better trained, better educated, we have great equipment, we solve crimes, crime is at an all time low, we have great technology and we do our jobs – why does the public not trust us when at this time they should trust us the most because of what I just mentioned?’”
The second challenge he mentioned was that most people live in a community for a long time, but the population at URI changes every four years. So the officers on campus must be constantly working on building relationships with everyone. Jagoda believes that if everyone comes together, then they can talk out concerns and achieve big things as a community.
To also help with communication between the police and students, Jagoda plans to set up citizen policing and an advisory commission made up of students who will be the voice of the students. They will bring concerns to the police department, hear what the police have to say and work out something that works for both parties.