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Fighting stereotypes by day, crime at night

BY KIANA HUGHES

Campus Safety has created a Community Officer Program for UT’s campus to build better relationships and a stronger sense of trust between Campus Safety and students.

“When I first got here I kind of had this feeling like it’s an ‘us versus them type’ thing and right away I said, ‘we have to change this somehow and one way we can do that is sports,’” William Ty Paniss, campus safety day shift supervisor, and creator of the Community Officer Program, said.

Campus Safety has already joined multiple dorms and athletic teams to play sports and gain back the trust that is so important on a college campus.

“We have a few students that have emotional problems in Austin hall,” Paniss said. “The evening shift supervisor, Randy McCune, invited them to [a volleyball] event just to meet new friends and to socialize a little bit more. Those are the things we are trying to do to have them feel a little more comfortable.”

Campus Safety is also focusing on creating stronger relationships between students and Campus Safety through their program. “We want to know the students on a first name basis and we want to them to know us on a first name basis. Not ‘Here comes the campus safety officer,’”  Paniss said. “When they learn about you and know you better… they are going to confide in you if something did happen.”

One of the underlying goals for this program is to ultimately break the stereotypes that students may believe about Campus Safety to create a safer UT community.

“I think they feel we are just there to bust them,” Paniss said. “That’s part of it yeah, we do have to do those things, but on the other hand, it doesn’t have to be that they are afraid to come to us.”

These stereotypes that Paniss said students hold may stem from past bad experiences students have had with campus safety. Austin Simpson, sophomore management information systems major, said what started as a small prank in his dorm room stemmed to distrust in the officers that were there to keep campus safe.  

“What was originally a prank in my dorm, turned into a serious situation with Campus Safety barging into my room at midnight and waking me up to say I may be going to jail that night,” Simpson said.“My heart was racing, my adrenaline kicked in, and I was scared for my life. From that night on, I lost a sense of trust with Campus Safety because I felt like they weren’t doing their job properly.”   

Simpson admits the prank was not a smart decision, but felt disrespected.

“[Campus Safety Officers] have that police officer atmosphere,” said Paniss. “they are not on the streets, we are with students and they are not criminals, they are students. But sometimes they want to treat them like that in a way. We have to tone it down a little bit. We have an important job to do but let’s do it in a different fashion.”

Since the start of the program last semester, Campus Safety believes that the program has been successful in reaching their goals. Many students who have participated in the program’s events, now know the officers on a friendly level and wave and say hello when they see the officers.

“As an athlete, of course this sounds fun to go out and play against the officers, but to a student who may not be interested in such activities, they are missing these opportunities to build a better relationship with Campus Safety,” said Simpson.  

The Community Officer Program is not the only initiative they are working on this year. Campus Safety is currently planning to offer a self-defense course to female UT students. The program name is RAD, Rape Aggression Defense System, and it will provide women with the necessary tactics and techniques to protect themselves in the case of an emergency.

On Feb. 22 at 9 p.m. at the Cass building gym, Campus Safety is joining Austin hall for a game of dodgeball. All students are welcome to watch the game. If you have any questions about any of the programs mentioned, contact Paniss at wpaniss@ut.edu or contact the Campus Safety office at (813) 257-7777.  

For more information you can contact Kiana at kiana.hughes@theminaretonline.com

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