In the biannual Bowdoin Orient Student Survey, published in this week’s issue, 34.61 percent of students indicated that they disapprove or strongly disapprove of the Brunswick Police Department (BPD). This is by far the highest disapproval rating of the individuals, departments and organizations listed on the survey.
In the survey’s comment section, many students took the time to elaborate on their thoughts about BPD. The comments cover a wide range—everything from blunt anger to thoughtful reflection. “I don’t like Brunswick PD. Quote me, please,” wrote one student. “I think a more holistic assessment of the College’s relationship with Brunswick PD is very necessary for the future of our students,” wrote another. Someone else wrote that their “BPD disapproval” was “contingent on [the] new police chief.”
Some students say that the relationship between students and the police has changed in recent years. For other students, this feels familiar. Regardless of whether these responses reflect a real difference, they do represent student perception of that relationship. This is arguably more important because it leads to mistrust, which can lead to conflict.
Either way, the reality is that even if you live a perfectly legal life, you’re going to have to talk to the police at some point. Students who feel that the relationship between BPD and the College has changed must acknowledge a hard truth. Even if we could reverse this perceived change, we will still one day be dealing with police who would never in a million years think to call Randy Nichols before knocking on the front door.
Policing tactics in poor and minority communities mean that many students have experience interacting with the police before they come to Brunswick. But for students who don’t have this experience, the reality is that they either learn how to interact with police now while they’re here, or they learn it in some other city, at some other time, in a circumstance that may be worse than an underage drinking citation or a traffic ticket.
Bowdoin Security is our biggest resource when it comes to interacting with the police. We think that Security should consider going into more depth when talking to students about police interactions. Opportunities include First Year Brick tours, College House Orientation and Off-Campus Living Orientation.
While it would be nice if Security gave us this training, we acknowledge that we, as adults, need to learn our rights. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggests that people stopped by the police should “stay calm” and ask if they can leave. They recommend remembering and exercising your right to remain silent. If you are stopped in a car, this right applies to both drivers and passengers. These are a few tips easily available through several minutes of research—we encourage students to visit the ACLU’s website and explore further.
At the end of the day, students must be able to deal with these encounters. Our college education does not end in the classroom; our experiences also help us prepare for the real world. After we graduate, we won’t be able to hide behind the College and our Bowdoin Bubble. We will not have that privilege, and perhaps it is time for us to understand that, educate ourselves and prepare for the future.