AMES, Iowa — The Iowa State University Police Department wants to serve as an example for other law enforcement agencies to see how acknowledging and working to change problems within the profession can turn into positive change in their communities.
In 2016, the ISU Police Department started its Multicultural Liaison Officer program following student calls for increased outreach, though some officers within the department were already reaching out on an informal basis. In 2017, they rebranded and restructured as the Engagement and Inclusion Officer (EIO) Team after Michael Newton came on as associate vice president for public safety and chief of police and began meeting with faculty and students to gauge their impressions and opinions of the police department.
For the past three years, the EIO Team – and the entire police department – has partnered with students, faculty, staff and the Ames community to create a more inclusive campus and to improve relationships. That includes Campus Conversations, presentations, participation in community and student events, service on committees and working groups and sharing knowledge about police reform at national and international conferences.
This year, the EIO Team’s work is being recognized with the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators’ Innovation in Community Policing Award.
“I think part of it comes from the fact that we were willing to go outside our comfort zone and move a program like this forward,” Newton said. “In the traditional law enforcement sense, people have been slow to have these uncomfortable conversations. When we’re doing this work, we have to be willing to acknowledge some of the past history of law enforcement that was not pretty – and current law enforcement that is not pretty. We have to acknowledge that before we can move forward and build relationships.”
Leading by example
The ISU Police Department ascribes to a “community policing” philosophy, which involves officers embedding themselves within and getting involved in the community they serve. The goal, Newton says, is to be proactive rather than reactive.
“We can lead change by being an example,” Newton said. “We try really hard to be an example of what law enforcement should look like.”
The department partners with the ISU Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion on multiple programs, including Campus Conversations, an opportunity for police and the campus community to interact in a non-law enforcement setting.
“I was doing all this work and getting educated, but it was in those moments that I learned I had just hit the tip of the iceberg,” Carrie Jacobs, deputy chief, said of the Campus Conversations. “If I’m going to make true systemic change, I need to step up and correct what I hear in my own daily interactions with coworkers and family members. If we continue to remain silent, things won’t ever really change. It’s very humbling to understand that.”
Jacobs has worked for the ISU Police Department for 17 years.
“I got into this profession to make a difference, and if there’s anywhere we need to make a difference, reach out, build trust and break down barriers, it’s with our marginalized communities,” she said.
As part of the police department’s annual policy review, the EIO Team decided input from the community they serve is necessary.
“Police have enormous amounts of power, and we’re naturally going to look at policies through our lens, even if we hold other identities, too,” said Natasha Greene, engagement and inclusion officer. “We need other people who don’t have those lenses to look at our policies and say, ‘What about this glaring issue?’”
Change from within
Greene is the first full-time Engagement and Inclusion Officer with ISUPD, a four-year assignment that will rotate between officers. Before starting as an ISU Police officer in 2015, Greene worked as a child advocate and sexual assault advocate for Assault Care Center Extending Shelter & Support (ACCESS) in Ames. There, she realized the effect that law enforcement’s involvement can have on a survivor – positively or negatively.
“I’m a firm believer that if you want to see change in the system and you have privileged identities, you become part of that system and help make changes from within,” Greene said.
The bulk of her job is connecting with ISU students, particularly students of color.
“I’m thankful for the amount of grace they’ve been willing to give me in having these relationships,” she said. “Hopefully they don’t feel like it’s transactional. I appreciate them as humans and they make my life better.
“It’s exciting to see the EIO Team get recognized, not because of anything revolutionary we did, but because of the emotional labor our community has been willing to pour into this team and idea.”
Newton wants the EIO Team’s efforts to continue and expand as officers build relationships, educate themselves and lift up marginalized voices.
The positive change goes beyond Iowa State and Ames. Because of the EIO Team’s national presentations, numerous police departments have reached out to the ISU Police Department for guidance on how to implement similar initiatives in their own departments.