A two-sided take on the way UA students interact with the UAPD.

By Ben Rigney-Carroll, ’21

While senior Megan Miller is at her job at Chick-Fil-A, the parking lot is often filled with police cruisers during lunch. Instead of flashing lights and blaring sirens, though, Miller is met from pranks and jokes from officers on break from the Columbus Police headquarters.

“Sometimes they play pranks on us because they know us so well,” Miller said.

Though Miller has developed a positive relationship with local police, students’ relationships with police can often be complicated and influenced by their own personal interactions with police. As most teens are still building their world views, their views of police can be entirely derived from a limited number of interactions and are sometimes damaged by a single negative experience.

As new drivers, more active members of the community and soon-to-be adults, high school students will inevitably come into contact with the police. Some students, such as senior Caleb Thorne, have come to view the Upper Arlington Police Department and police in general in a negative way.

“I’ve always felt that their purpose isn’t really to protect: it’s more to punish. I’ve always felt that that’s kind of what they’re looking for,” Thorne said. 

This attitude accompanies feelings of distrust or uneasiness around police, building tension between minors and police.

UAPD Officer Timothy Brandt explained that one of the key ways UA police interact with minors is with school resource officers, or SROs.

“We have an SRO in each middle school and one for our elementary schools and then of course, Officer Rice in the high school,” Brandt said. “[SROs have] to be our first positive contact because that can be an everyday thing, seeing the officers in [school].”

By putting officers in schools, the UAPD aims to provide a bridge for interaction between the police and the youth in their community, but there are some mixed reactions from students with presence of officers within the high school. While some students feel that having officers at UAHS is either unnecessary or intimidating, others such as sophomore Andrew Rainey-Coelho appreciate their presence.

“They do a good job making sure that we know that they’re there not just to crack down on kids vaping but to help educate us on why it’s bad,” Rainey-Coelho said.

He finds that having a school resource officer is of value to him and believes that having an SRO makes the school safer and adds a positive presence within the building.

In contrast, sophomore Andrew Dunn feels that having officers in the building impacts the school negatively. Officer Rice makes routine inspections of the bathrooms to help curb the prominent vaping trend, which Dunn does deem necessary. 

“One time was in the bathroom [and] they thought we were doing something bad,” Dunn said. “Of course I wasn’t, but it made me feel really nervous.” 

Regardless of the intent or circumstances, one negative interaction can be enough for students to generalize a negative view of police. 

“I just don’t like the cops,” Dunn said. “They scare me.”

Along with SROs, the UAPD has worked to build a presence in the community by performing well-checks, interacting with shoppers at Giant Eagle Market District and engaging in community events, such as trick-or-treat. 

“There are five of us and our cruisers will be out there with a bag of candy,” Brandt said. 

In addition to passing out candy, Brandt also enjoys playing lighthearted pranks on teens during the festivities. 

“I like messing with the older kids. I’ll be like, ‘Hey, what are you doing? What are y’all doing out here?’ and I’ll be like ‘Hey! I’ve got candy. Here you go.’” 

By interacting with teenagers, Brandt hopes to provide a positive memory of police for students. 

“Making a contact,” Brandt said. “Make sure they get a good laugh or something like that.”

One of the issues that many teens have with police is the contrast between the adult-like privileges of driving combined with limited first-hand knowledge of the law and lack of previous police interaction. When interacting with minors, police must decide in what ways they want to treat minors differently from adults and in what ways they want to assume the minor has the maturity and knowledge of an adult. Many students expect that officers give them the respect that should be given to an adult.

“Students are still learning the ways of the world, where as an adult [has] more of an understanding of the repercussions of what they’re doing. Kids can generally be more temperamental. I think they can do that just by being kind or at least less aggressive—less direct,” Miller said. 

On the other hand, students can feel nervous about being pulled over and hope that officers are forgiving in helping them understand the law and how they should behave. 

“I think if I was an officer, I would think that a minor would have less knowledge of their rights and what they can do or can’t do,” Dunn said. 

In expecting both leniency reserved for minors and procedural directness reserved for adults, students place high expectations on officers already under pressure when on duty.

Though students may often feel as if officers do not consider their circumstances when giving traffic citations or when interacting with teens, most officers try to be considerate whenever possible. 

“[I would] probably a little bit more lenient with a juvenile in certain circumstances than I would be with an adult,” Brandt said. 

He also noted that when giving minor traffic citations, he realizes the burden of time and money that can be placed on students. 

Despite the often negative opinions that students can have concerning police, many realize that police being a “good cop” or “bad cop” is not black and white. 

“People tend to neglect the fact that their job can be difficult,” said Miller, “It can be dangerous and in the end, they’re trying to do as much for you as they can.’” 

As Brandt notes, the improvement of the relationship between students and police goes both ways with both groups working to improve these interactions in UA. 

As a UAPD officer, Brandt’s role is to be as professional and kind as possible, but also to do his job as an officer. 

“We’re out here trying to do good and we’re trying to make the community better,” Brandt said. “[We try to be] active members of the community, but we have a job to do and have the law to enforce.”