Barry Mills praised the relationship between the Brunswick Police Department (BPD) and the Bowdoin community in his address to parents last Saturday, noting a positive shift in the last year and a half.
"If you go back and read the Orient, you'll find that there were incidents where the relationship with BPD was more complicated," Mills said in an interview with a reporter.
"I think that a lot of that had to do with the fact...[that] BPD was trying to work and find the appropriate balance between what their role was and what the Bowdoin security force's role was, principally related to underage drinking and other drinking events on campus," he said.
Mills was referring to a series of unrelated incidents that occurred in the spring of 2010.
A week after a Bowdoin student was arrested for assault and another was charged with driving under the influence, BPD received a $12,000 grant from the local organization Communities Against Substance Abuse to prevent underage alcohol consumption and solicitation of minors.
"It's not just trying to pick on people with possession, it's also trying to get people selling illegally," said Captain Mark Waltz of BPD, referring to the grant.
According to Randy Nichols, director of safety and security, the number of court-ordered summons to Bowdoin students for alcohol violations increased after the grant was awarded.
Nichols said this increase was expected. Nonetheless, he attributed the sometimes fraught relationship between the student body and BPD to negative student reactions after the small spike in summons.
"The Orient did a lot of publicity when the grant came up, and it got the students stirred up," he said. "The students assumed the worst. The fact is, enforcement is a fact of life. I think the students felt like their world was coming to an end in some way."
Waltz said that he was concerned that student distrust of local police would create an unsafe environment on campus. He saw evidence of this in his work with Bowdoin's Safe Space in 2010.
"They bring in a prosecutor and in officer to talk to the students. During one of the sessions, just because I was curious, I asked, 'If you thought your friend was sexually assaulted, would you hesitate to call the police because of all the stuff that was going on?' I was surprised by how many people said that they would," said Waltz.
A year and a half later, however, student reactions to police enforcement have quieted.
Since September 1, the police have responded to 29 incidents involving Bowdoin students. Of these, 13 were alcohol-related incidents, and four resulted in police enforcement of alcohol violations. One student was arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence this weekend.
Nichols credits BPD's efforts to reach out to Bowdoin students a key part of the improvement of student perception.
"We set up several meetings between members of the College Houses and the police department and us," he said. "There was one where the police department met with the representatives of the College Houses alone, explaining what the job is that they do, what their expectations are, and relaying the message that they will be fair and equitable in their approach."
Nichols also remarked that since the series of incidents, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster has initiated bimonthly meetings with Nichols and BPD.
Although Nichols and BPD have been meeting every week for years, Foster wanted to expand the relationship even further.
"We're meeting regularly talking about what's happening in town, what's happening on campus; sort of an information flow and sense of collaboration," said Foster.
During this year's College House training, Patrol Commander Mark Hagan and the officers who run the night shift—whom students are most likely to interact with—facilitated discussion of their expectations. They also had lunch with house officers.
"Taking their time to do that tells you a lot about their interest in our community," said Christopher Rossi '10, the assistant director of residential life.
Waltz added, "My point in all this is that we've done a number of different things where we come to campus and try to be approachable, so if I had a message to students, it would be to not be afraid to have contact with us."