The police department at Mason is a controversial topic, and it has been for many years. Even though crime rates, especially violent crime rates, are remarkably low, the police department still gains a lot of criticism and has a negative reputation among many students, especially in wake of the Fenwick library scandal a year ago where Abdirashid Dahir was falsely charged with abducting someone from a library study room. The charges in that case were subsequently dropped after great public pressure. You would think in a place where 6,000 people live and where more than 33,000 students attend classes that there would be more crime. But that doesn’t seem to affect the sentiment of many students who see the police department as a military-like operation that suppresses underage drinking and doles out harsh consequences for infractions. But wait — isn’t the police department supposed to be enforcing laws such as underage drinking? Yes, but I’m sure many of us who have friends at other colleges know that their police departments are more lenient. Maybe it’s because Mason has rapidly transformed to a residential campus in such a short amount of time?
I think a big part of the Mason Police Department’s culture revolves around the university’s outdated, strict policies of enforcement for minor crimes such as underage drinking and having a good time. Let’s get real: It’s college, and many engage in alcohol consumption during their undergraduate years. With the risk of being arrested, sent to jail and facing consequences like having to perform 100 hours of community service, it can really put a damper on the fun. Even though all of the residential areas on campus are “wet” areas, for Mason cops to bust a dorm party and arrest a few people is equivalent to a county officer doing a drug bust. Now, this is not to say that’s how every officer in the department behaves; plenty of reasonable cops see that underage drinking happens at college, and they’re not going to send people to jail for it. But many still see it as a serious violation. Instead of instilling fear into the student body, why not support the safety of the students and offer assistance if they see someone a little drunk instead of locking them away? Many schools have Safe Ride programs, which is something the incoming student body president and vice president are trying to bring here to Mason. Why is Mason so uptight about underage drinking? Why not look out for the safety of the students instead of forcing them to take unnecessary risks to avoid the police?
I emailed Maj. George Ginovsky, the assistant chief of the Mason Police Department, for comment on why he thinks students see the department in a negative light, even though crime is low and the campus seems safe; he did not respond in time for publication.
The number of officers that Mason has for such a small patrol area is absolutely astounding, with over 50 full-time officers employed. By comparison, the City of Fairfax department has around 65. I understand that on any given day there could be up to 20,000 people on campus and that’s hard to control, but is it really necessary to have this many officers on a campus police force?
Another overabundance of personnel occurs in a sub-organization of the Mason police, the cadets. What exactly do the cadets do for us besides direct traffic and make pedestrians wait at crosswalks for long periods while it’s raining? The cadets get paid between $10 and $11 an hour to direct traffic and have a brand new Ford Escape with ridiculous decals on the side of it. Though I know several cadets whom I would describe as reasonable, in general, the cadets take themselves way too seriously for what they actually do. This significant budget expenditure does nothing to help protect the general student population, and I would rather see that money go towards the officers that do protect us. For example, when I was in high school and the beginning of my college years, I was affiliated with a national program called the Nassau County Police Department Explorers in New York. It was a volunteer program where we performed duties similar to those of cadets, and we did not get paid.
Speaking with junior conflict analysis and resolution major Shane Smith, he said that the department has to “understand that they are a part of this university, and as a student I should feel like I can have a positive interaction with them rather than feeling belittled.” Smith also said that they basically have an “utter lack of public relations.” Even though the students perceive the department negatively, crime is still low and campus is still safe; that’s most important. Maybe their public perception issues can be fixed with a bit of good PR? What do you think, University Relations?
WGMU’s Storm A. Paglia contributed to this article.