President says ‘community policing’ used at OCCC

October 21, 2014 Latest Print Print
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In 2011, OCCC did away with the concept of employing armed security and brought in a police department of its own.

OCCC Police Chief James Fitzpatrick said the department employs 13 officers, in addition to himself.

OCCC President Paul Sechrist said the change has been beneficial.

“Having our own police department allows the college to direct the style of policing and security that fits our culture,” Sechrist said. “The OCCC Police Department reports to the administration of the college. I would describe the approach as community policing to some degree.

“They are here to provide security, respond professionally in an emergency, and to be there to assist when needed.”

The campus police may be an exception to a spreading tension between police and citizens in some U.S. communities, Sechrist said.

Recent civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, has continued for weeks after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed African-American teen. In Ferguson, a mostly white police force serves a mostly African-American community.

The question of racial parity between campus police and OCCC’s student  body has been raised, but cannot be easily answered.

OCCC’s student body is identified as about 50 percent Caucasian and 50 percent other races, according to a report by James Atkinson, Performance Measurement and Reporting Director.

About 10 percent of OCCC students identify themselves as African-American and 13  percent as Hispanics. About 6 percent of OCCC’s students say they are of mixed race.

The remaining students identify themselves as Asian, 6 percent; American Indian, 5 percent; and about 7 percent register as “Unknown.”

Fitzpatrick said one of OCCC’s 12 police officers is African-American. He said some of OCCC’s officers are Caucasian.

He said he could not disclose how his officers identify their race or ethnicities for census information.

Fitzpatrick said the department seems to uphold a good reputation among students.

“We try to serve them as best we can,” he said.

Premed student Carla Villalobos said generally she trusts police and she trusts the police department on campus.  She said she understands why people don’t seem to trust their local police force right now.

“It’s because of all the stories about some being corrupt and others preferring certain types of people,” she said.

“I don’t think that goes on here,” Villalobos said. “They’re trustworthy,”

Sechrist said police on campus are held to another level of accountability beyond that of city police.

“Our officers and those in command are highly trained and held accountable to professional standards.

“I would describe the level of accountability to be consistent with an open college campus,” he said.  “Professional, courteous, friendly and helpful, but ready at a moment’s notice to respond to any security or safety situation that may arise.”

OCCC’s police officers are paid between $36,360 and $53,460 annually according to the college’s staffing plan.

Oklahoma City’s officers, according to lawenforcementedu.net, receive an annual median wage of $70,030 and the average salary for law enforcement professionals in the nation is reported to be roughly $55,000 annually, $14,000 more than the average annual income for Americans.

A U.S. Department of Justice Report on factors that influence the public perception of police shows people with informal police contacts had more positive perceptions than those with formal contacts.

The report also suggests residents’ opinion of police performance did not vary by race or ethnicity in disorderly neighborhoods but there is ongoing debate over the effects of racial disparity between a community and its police force.

Ronald Weitzer, a sociologist at George Washington University, said in a  New York Times article dated Sept. 4, 2014: “Even if police officers of whatever race enforce the law in relatively the same way, there is a huge image problem with a department that is so out of sync with the racial composition of the local population.”

Sechrist said the college sees the need for diversity.

“OCCC recognizes that having diversity at all levels is important,including our police officers,” Sechrist said.

“We do hire the best fit for our departments, including the OCCC Police Department. While we have never set targets, we do support and encourage diverse candidates to apply for any and all positions.”

“I hope that our students, faculty, staff, and guests feel that they can trust our police officers. I know that I do.”

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