More than 30 students have participated in the Lunch with a Cop program. The program is to help form a partnership with the student body and police. DN PHOTO CHRISTOPHER STEPHENS
Lunch with a Cop program aims to better public perspective toward police
Two uniformed officers walk through Woodworth’s dining hall toward a small group of students, but instead of pulling out their handcuffs or Tasers, one of the officers pulls out his debit card, ready to pay for lunch.
More than 30 students have already witnessed this scene as some of the first to take part in the University Police Department’s new Lunch with a Cop program.
“[UPD] is always looking for a way to form partnership with the student body and police,” UPD sergeant John Foster said. “This is a way to create personal relationships with students.”
To participate in the Lunch with a Cop program, contact UPD Sgt. John Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org or call UPD’s office at 765-285-1832.
Foster plans the lunches and, more often than not, is the one who answers students' questions and hears their concerns over a tray of campus cuisine.
The program originally came together from a collaboration between the Student Government Association and UPD as a way for students to voice their safety concerns, SGA member Jack Hesser said.
Any student can set up a lunch by emailing Foster at email@example.com or calling UPD’s office at 765-285-1832.
The lunches offer students a way to ask an officer questions about how law enforcement works and allows officers and students to form personal, friendly relationships.
That way, Foster said, if the student does run into officers in the future they will come at the situation from a neutral or even friendly base.
But more than that, it lets students feel comfortable speaking with law enforcement and change the perception about police.
“We want students to know we aren’t just here to ‘bust people,’” Foster said.
For field training officer Renita de la Garza, the lunches let her show students that, even though she wears a badge and a uniform while she works, she is still a human being.
“What I’m enjoying is that we don’t always talk about what police do,” she said. “We can just bring things down to a person-to-person level. I’ve enjoyed that a lot.”
The lunches often take place during an officer’s normal shift, Foster said, but he sees this work as just as important as his other, more traditional law enforcement duties.
“The relationships we form are incredibly important,” Foster said. “That’s more sets of eyes that can see criminal activity. We can’t do our job without the community.”
The program hasn’t only benefited officers. Aileen Perez, a sophomore criminal justice major, jumped at the opportunity to speak with an officer about what it’s like to patrol campus.
“They are working for the university,” she said. “Why not try to understand what they do, or understand them?”
She said the lunch helped her feel safer on campus because she knows exactly why officers are on campus and how they work.
Sophomore accounting and criminal justice major Bonu Dustova said she thinks every student should have a lunch with an officer because it makes students see them differently.
“We are made to fear authority. I guess a lot of people see a cop and their first thought is to fear them,” she said. “Having lunch with one is a great way to change that.”