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Campus Police Meet with Students At Burton-Conner for Social Event

By Karen Robinson
Staff Reporter

Last night, roughly 30 students gathered in the Burton-Conner dining room to enjoy pizza and meet campus police officers, including the new patrol operations captain, CP Paul Baratta.

Hopefully, this will "bring the campus police back into the community, more like a neighborhood cop," said Halston W. Taylor, housemaster of Burton-Conner who was responsible for organizing the event.

AnneP. Glavin, chief of Campus Police was scheduled to attend but did not. The several officers who were present at the event agreed that meeting students in an informal environment is beneficial.

Generally when officers and students meet the student is asking for directions, is reporting a problem, or has a complaint, explained officer Jan Popp. Informal meetings, therefore, serve as a good way for officers to get student input, he said.

One recurring topic at the event was alcohol: students wondered how the new alcohol policies are affecting policing. Officers said the changes are administrative, and police aren't doing anything differently.

Campus police are all trained as emergency medical technicians, and when called in a medical situation this is their first duty. There are confidentiality laws in medical situations, so often the officer does not immediately "go back to being a cop." Officers mentioned that they should actually see students drinking to act as police, but of course, this, like all aspects of the job, varies with the situation.

Baratta and other officers pleaded with students not to worry about punishment when calling for help with possible alcohol poisoning, emphasizing that staying alive is more important.

Event weakens stereotypes

Baratta also expressed concern that police are seen as thinking, "We're gonna get one tonight!,'" - which is far from how they approach their job. Campus police do not act as security guards, but actively serve and protect the MIT community.

Baratta emphasized that MIT is an unusually diverse place to work, and this directly affects how students and police interact. Some students from rural areas may consider police firearms too authoritative; some come from countries where police are simply best feared; some students just don't like 'em.

Students affirmed that this session makes CP's seem more like people "cheesy as that sounds" Jennifer L. Cooper '02 said she trusts them more now. "You can walk through campus, you recognize them, say hi to them, they say hi to you - it's good to know the CP's."

In response to a question about firearms, Baratta said that 99 percent of the people at MIT are basically good, law-abiding citizens. "But that one percent, they'll hurt you."

One difficult, but interesting part of the officer's job is his discretion. Officers must choose what to report, what to investigate, and what to leave alone.

Housemaster organized event

Burton-Conner housemaster Halston W. Taylor originated the event, based on his experience as a member of the ad hoc committee on alcohol. Students have become increasingly suspicious of CP's, and sometimes worry more about possible citations than their own safety when calling campus police.

Taylor and Baratta both hoped that the event would bring the CP's back into the community and increase trust between students and campus police.

Campus police plan to use more of a team approach to solving problems that come up during patrol hours.

Baratta became Captain of Patrol Operations Tuesday. He said he was glad to have this opportunity to introduce himself to students, and that he hopes campus police can get to know students and understand the problems better - not just react but be more proactive.

When someone calls CPs, rather than using the traditional response or just sending a few officers out to deal with the problem they hope to "look outside the box" for new solutions. When officers come back to headquarters they will report on what is going on, then a few people will analyze it.

Campus Police are always on duty. Baratta wants students to realize they're willing to come, at night, also.Police work at odd hours, and at 6 in the morning few other places are open.

As an example of a day's hours, Thursday morning Baratta was on duty from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. He went home to fix a clogged sink and came to Burton-Conner - on the way, where did he stop? Sure enough, the convenient, ubiquitous Dunkin's.

Baratta said that he enjoyed talking with students, getting their input and hopefully clearing up some questions. Scheduling is in process for similar events at other dorms.