Approximately 40 students were in attendance at the Colvard Student Union for a Student Association panel dealing primarily with community law enforcement relations on Monday. The panel consisted of officers from the Starkville and Mississippi State University police departments and were represented by both chiefs of police, a captain, a corporal and a sergeant.
The event included a Q&A section; asked first by the host, future SA President Garrett Smith; and followed by members of the audience. After this, a small dinner from Subway was provided and a raffle of various prizes was held, the largest prize being a TV.
The first question posited to the officers was why they decided to enter law enforcement, and it received a variety of answers.
Corporal Chantel Solis-McCoy from MSU PD spoke about a former desire to join the military and why she decided on law enforcement instead.
"I wanted to join the military, but I had a heart condition and could not be accepted. So instead of serving my country, I decided to serve the community," Solis-McCoy said.
Captain Kenneth Rodgers of MSU PD explained he was looking for something different and for good pay. Twenty-five plus years later he is still in it.
The officers were asked what they thought set Starkville law enforcement apart from other police departments nationwide. Chief Vance Rice of MSU PD cited the national recognition of the two departments as testament to the quality of their work.
"Our two departments here are nationally accredited," Rice said. "Only about 20% of the departments nationwide can claim that level of professionalism, and you have two here in your immediate area."
Smith asked what the officers thought students could do to help improve relations with the police departments. Mark Ballard, chief of police at Starkville PD, encouraged students to take advantage of their brief citizenship in Starkville and to respect those around them.
"One of the things we see sometimes is people buying houses in residential neighborhoods, and their neighbors are 50 to 60. And they want to turn it into Animal House, and then, they're surprised when there are issues," Ballard said. "That has gotten better over the years, thankfully. Meet your neighbors, and respect your neighbors. Take your citizenship seriously."
The final question before the audience's opportunity involved misconceptions about policing. Ballard believes critics focus too heavily on the negative.
"I think that people forget we're human beings, and I'm not justifying the use of force issues out there today," Ballard said. "I'm talking about performance under adrenaline. We drop the ball sometimes. Law enforcement will make mistakes. If you expect perfection from any human entity, you're going to be disappointed."
Audience questions ranged from the light, such as asking the officers what the most accurate cop show on TV is, to the heavier, such as asking questions about the militarization of police officers in the U.S.
A question was asked about what students could do to continue improving the relationship between law enforcement and their community, to which the general response was to not be afraid to speak to any officer you see about anything from the most mundane to the serious.
After the questions and answers section concluded, dinner was served and raffles for prizes were given out by members of the Student Association. The officers stuck around for a while after and answered any one-on-one question a student may have had.