Fighting Crime and Forging Connection

Ball State University Police Department Police Chief Jim Duckham believes more personable and approachable officers and staff go hand in hand with ensuring campus safety.

Lt. Matt Gaither stands by Scramble Light to meet and talk to students Aug. 26. Amber Pietz, DN
Lt. Matt Gaither stands by Scramble Light to meet and talk to students Aug. 26. Amber Pietz, DN

Rose Sanchez is the grandmother of a Ball State freshman from Indianapolis, Indiana. While her family walked to their vehicle to grab a few more things for move-in day, Aug. 18, Sanchez waited by a cart filled to the top with everything her granddaughter packed for her dorm. 

Freshman exercise science major Lexi Morris, from Rushville, Indiana, moved into her dorm at the Woodworth Complex a few days before, but as a part of Ball State’s Accelerate program, she was ready to assist families that needed help doing the same. Morris and Sanchez had never met prior, yet they were speaking and laughing with each other like they were familiar acquaintances. 

Morris said the Ball State University Police Department (UPD)’s presence, as they directed traffic, answered questions and were available to help, made the jarring process of move-in easier. 

From the perspective of a grandparent rather than a student, Sanchez said after taking one walk to the bathroom and talking with an officer, she isn’t as concerned about leaving her granddaughter at Ball State. 

“A few people I came in contact with, they’re just nice and friendly,” Sanchez said. “I feel better, I’m already relieved. I think she’s going to be safe here. I just feel it with the people I’ve met.” 

UPD Chief and Director of Public Safety Jim Duckham said Sanchez’s thoughts are exactly what his department strives for. In his position since 2014, Duckham said his biggest goal when he took office was to make “community policing” a major point of focus.

Community policing, as Duckham put it, means immersing into the BSU community and trying to be as personable as possible while still keeping those on campus safe. Historically, move-in day has been a big way for the UPD to do so. 

“It’s really a good opportunity to engage and have some positive interactions just from the start of the semester,” Duckham said. “What we've seen is that it's actually paid dividends when we've had interviews with survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence and stuff like that, and they’ve actually said, ‘Hey, I felt comfortable coming forward because the officer I met at move-in day was really nice.’”

Lt. Matt Gaither talks with a Ball State student about how he had family members who were officers Aug. 26 at Scramble Light. Amber Pietz, DN

In light of recent policing controversies around the United States, Duckham said he wants every experience someone has with a UPD officer or staff on campus to be positive.

“It also gives them an opportunity to see us as approachable, like the first contact isn't something negative,” Duckham said. “We have to recognize that not everybody's experiences with police officers have been positive. So that's what we're trying to do — increase the number of positive contacts, increase the number of opportunities to engage.” 

UPD has many events planned for the 2022-23 academic year at Ball State, including Pizza with the Press, Dunk A Cop, Lunch with a Cop, a crime scene simulator, self-defense training in dorm complexes, a drunk and high driving simulator and more. 

During these events, students get the chance to learn important safety tips but also get to know UPD officers personally. Duckham said he feels if a person knows an officer personally, they may be more likely to reach out for help or just to talk. 

He said over the years, he and his department have worked with many different students with different majors on career projects or just for advice, something he feels is due in large part to students being comfortable based on prior experiences at events or through speaking with a member of the UPD. 

With the growing number of homicides and crimes outside of Ball State’s campus during the summer, Duckham said he recognizes recent events have changed people’s perceptions of Muncie, Indiana. Though a major goal of the UPD is to forge relationships with students and staff on campus, Duckham said the number one priority is to keep and make people feel safe. 

“We want to make this the safest campus community we can, and that comes with knowing what’s going on in your surrounding area,” Duckham said. “We live in a city, and we have to recognize that, so I think educating our campus community on things they can do to protect themselves, crime prevention methods and steps they can take to be safer is a good thing.” 

Kylie Hostetler, a freshman nursing major who recently moved into Park Hall from her hometown of Columbus, Indiana, said she felt safe during move-in day for the same reasons Morris and Rose did. 

“I don’t feel weird standing alone out in the middle when I don’t know anything,” Hostetler said. “It gives you a sense of security and that there is always someone there to help you.” 

Duckham wants to show the community UPD’s style of policing, and he said he would rather hear what the people he and his department serve would like the police to do for them rather than the other way around. As a member of the Ball State and Muncie community himself, he said he feels strongly this is the best way for the UPD to do their duty.

“I live here, just like you. I'm part of this campus community,” Duckham said. “My family shops in the same stores that you shop in, we go to the same movie theater, so safety is really important. I'm passionate about community policing. I believe at my core that it's important that we engage with our campus community, and I think we've done a really good job of doing that, and we're going to continue to do that.”

Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email at kyle.smedley@bsu.edu or on Twitter @smedley1932.

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