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Building relationships

College police chief emphasizes connections to students

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Chief of SUNY Cortland Police Mark DePaull talks with seniors Emily Carty, left, and Christiane Murphy, center, Wednesday at the Student Life Center. Since becoming chief last year, DePaull has emphasized improving relationships between his police officers and students.

SUNY Cortland seniors Christiane Murphy and Emily Carty appreciate the campus police officers socializing with students more, whether it’s working out at the gym or chatting with desk attendants.

“You’re a campus celebrity,” Murphy told SUNY Cortland Police Chief Mark DePaull on Wednesday at the Student Life Center.

Mission accomplished. DePaull set out when he became chief a year ago to adopt more community-policing techniques in the department.

Murphy said she often saw officers coming in to use the gym when she worked the morning shift at the Student Life Center last year. It made them more approachable.

“I think it’s important to realize they’re people, too,” she said.

To adopt community policing, though, DePaull said he had to become more personable with the students. So he started “coffee with a cop.”

The semesterly event gives students the chance to grab a cup of joe and chat with officers.

“We weren’t quite sure what the response was going to be,” DePaull said. However, it turned out to be just what the campus needed, although it’s a bit too soon to say what influence the change has had on campus crime.

“A lot of people, they just didn’t come in and grab a cup of coffee and leave, they actually stopped and talked to us,” DePaull said. “They wanted to know our names, where we came from and we asked questions like what kind of major they had.”

Carty and Murphy both went to the event and said it was nice seeing the officers interact with students in a way people might not necessarily always see.

“It was a good opportunity to talk to them,” Carty said.

It’s not the only way the department has been trying to break down barriers with students. DePaull also sat down with members of the Student Government Association.

“What I wanted to do was I wanted to find out from them how do we get closer to the students and how do they want us to interact,” DePaull said.

Chief of SUNY Cortland Police Mark DePaull talks about his career as a police officer in Cortland on Wednesday while at the Student Life Center.

Students wanted to know who the police officers were, personally, DePaull said: the music they like or about their families. For DePaull, it meant confessing how he likes listening to Three Days Grace or Evanescence.

“Now when I talk to the students, talk with the RA’s (residential assistants) I try to show more of my off-duty side or my personal side,” DePaull said. “I’m not just Chief DePaull, I’m Mark.”

The new routine of community policing even led him to find out he had a third cousin he never knew about on campus.

Five of the 19 campus officers are trained in community policing, DePaull said.

DePaull also hopes to get a bomb and missing person cadaver dog. DePaull said the dog would work during large events, which federal officials consider a potential target for terroristic attacks. They would also respond to incidents on campus and when not working would participate in events like the PAWS for Stress Relief, which uses therapy dogs to help students relax during exam weeks.

Officers will begin going into classes to acclimate freshmen to college, to talk to them about the department, as well as active shooter training.

Also, all of the officers are trained to deal with mental health issues, something DePaull began implementing last year with the department’s work with Cortland County Mental Health Department.

“It’s just getting out and having more community interaction, not just with the campus community but with the local Cortland community as well,” DePaull said.

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