Soda occupied blue solo cups. Wraps and snacks filled a table in the lobby of University Hall. It was another Thursday night that Officer Dan Irons wasn’t in uniform. Instead he wore street clothes and took students bowling on a community-policing event.
Officer Irons engaged students in a conversation about their personal safety. Along with his duties as a Public Safety Police Officer for nearly the last five years, Irons partakes in community policing events. Over the last three and a half years he has taken West Chester University students on alternative events. These events allow for students to get off-campus. Irons wore a blue collared shirt and blended in with the college students who asked him questions about their safety prior to their bowling trip.
The alternative event began with chatter around the table of food as students helped themselves to rounds of non-alcoholic beverages. Irons led the discussion, which turned to a Q&A session. Students of the legal age to consume alcohol asked the officer which charges could be brought against them legally. Furnishing to minors is the most common offense, Irons answered. He added that the residents who host a party are legally responsible for providing the alcohol in the environment. Along with this, anyone is subject to a noise violation ordinance. He informed them they would also be in violation of the student code of conducts.
Irons reminded the students that in the situation, regardless of age, they could be arrested for public drunkenness. He told the students how he has found someone vomiting on a bench outside of a residence hall. The group gasped at the story, to which Irons added that fortunately the person is still alive as they received medical attention.
Irons used this and other authentic scenarios during the community-policing event to demonstrate the reality and the seriousness of being aware of one’s surroundings. This is a concept that students often hear. Irons reminded students of the safety alerts they received earlier this academic year, which involved three separate assaults on-campus.
While on patrol one night, Irons conducted a survey of the area near the water tower which leads from D lot to North Campus Drive. He noticed about 30 people walk by his patrol car in one hour. Of those people, 12 females walked alone and nine males walked alone. Of the people walking alone, he estimated about 75% of them had their heads down to look at their cell phones to text.
Irons told the students the lighting on their cell phones would delay their eyes in adjusting to the darkness of the night. He said this might hinder someone from being aware of his or her surroundings as this also will divide one’s attention with their eyes on his or her cell phone. He suggested to the students in attendance that they should walk in pairs at least. He reminded students they could call Public Safety for a walking safety escort on-campus grounds. He mentioned Paradise Transit, a shuttle bus that will drive students into the Borough and back to campus for a small fee. He also recommended not talking on the phone while they walk alone. Irons advised students to put distance between themselves and someone near them, if that would make them feel more comfortable. This will help one be aware of their surroundings and they will be able to “recognize the possibility of a threat and eliminate the risk, before it becomes an actual threat.”
The discussion gave students an opportunity to discuss topics that matter to them and the students engaged in the topics with questions. Community policing events prompt students to ask the officer questions. Irons said students are inquisitive and they ask questions for a simple answer.
The group consisted of an even mix of students over the age of 21 and under the age of 21. The group included five resident assistants from University Hall. When students arrived to the Downingtown Bowling Palace, they entered nicknames as their player names into the system that kept their score during the period of two hours of free bowling games. Many of them danced to the music choice of the DJ while they waited for their turn to knock the pins down. Irons continued to blend in among the students after he joined a lane and bowled with the West Chester students.
Irons attended WCU and he said he didn’t hear about community policing activities while he lived on-campus for three of his collegiate years.
Irons thanked the students for going to the community policing bowling activity and the students responded with thanks to him as they told him they had a fun night.
He said people feel more comfortable to approach him when he wears plain clothes. The community policing events are a “good opportunity to show people that [Public Safety officers] are real people too . . . we still have a job to do.” While students see officers in their uniforms, subsequently they “may not see [the officers] as people they can relate to, though we can relate to them; we’re people too.”
Ginger Rae Dunbar is a fifth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at RD655287@wcupa.edu.