Recent interactions with UAPD leave some questioning the role of police officers in a suburban community.
By Jenny Jiao, ’16, and Joe Levitt, ’16
It’s Friday night. Junior Sarah* and a few of her friends move the tables and chairs around her house, preparing to have peers over. Beer cases are brought in as people fill the rooms. The mood is calm with little worries.
Sarah is careful to keep the music low and tells people to park down the street, hoping to keep the party discreet. However, as the night wears on, more and more people swarm in and cups and cans are left scattered around the house. The music gets a bit louder and the guests a bit rowdier. The rooms become packed with people, some that Sarah doesn’t even know.
Suddenly, three police officers barge in the front door, scattering the masses of people. Panicking, Sarah runs out the back door with everyone else, jumping into cars or over fences.
After some time has passed, Sarah realizes her situation. The party was at her house; she can’t say she didn’t know or was unaware of the event. Understanding her options are limited, she makes her way back home.
Her peaceful approach was ignored as she was handcuffed by police officers.
“They were using profanity [all while] saying ‘this is a waste of my time’ and ‘I have better things to do’ and calling me stupid,” Sarah said.
Though she was attempting to cooperate and take responsibility, the officers allegedly did not accept her efforts or adopt a more cordial tone.
“I was agreeing, ‘It’s a waste of your time, sorry. This was unnecessary, and it got out of hand, and it wasn’t something that I planned,’” Sarah said. “They wouldn’t let me get in two words.”
Sarah was not surprised the police came, as there were many students in one house drinking. The most surprising thing for Sarah, however, was the lack of respect she received despite her clear intent of cooperation. Alleged displays of disrespect like this lead students to antagonize instead of respect officers, and to feel paranoid instead of protected.
One common misconception is that police officers are constantly looking to bust parties. Officers receive criticism for doing their jobs even if they are doing the right thing and that is no different here in Upper Arlington.
Jon Rice, Upper Arlington’s School Resource Officer, has been working for the Upper Arlington Division of Police for eight years as a patrol officer. He said he is well acquainted to the types of crime in the community.
“We don’t care if kids have fun; we really don’t,” Rice said. “We generally don’t go driving around looking for parties.”
However, officers will show up to a party once they are called, often by neighbors.
“When we get called to a party, it’s because a neighbor has said, ‘Hey there’s 40 cars on the road, and this is illegally parked, and we think this kid’s having a party,’” Rice said.
The police must address situations like this where underage drinking is prevalent. However, the biggest controversy is over the lack of respect, given from both teenagers and police officers.
Some students harbor negative feelings towards police after interactions where they believe the officers were disrespectful. Senior Halle Trabue was at the Jones Middle School stadium with friends when police officers allegedly approached them, yelling and threatening to arrest them.
“[The police] told us that they were going to arrest us and punish us for trespassing even though it wasn’t [curfew] yet,” Trabue said.
The police did not detain them; they left with a warning.
“We were just trying to go along with it and saying that we’re sorry and we’ll go home now,” Trabue said. “It was very scary.”
Trabue described one of her friend’s encounters with the police a few weeks ago. They were at a party with underage drinking when police officers walked in.
“One of the police officers called one of my friends [who was not drinking] a b**** and they lost one of my friend’s license when they were trying to check all of them,” she said.
Trabue understands the officers’ duty to arrest those who break the law, but she said she does not see the need for explicit language, especially when she did not say anything disrespectful.
“Police officers scare me, so I try to be as nice as possible,” Trabue said. “I think they could’ve handled it more professionally than lashing out at the kids. If they want the kids to respect them, then they should be able to respect us.”
Officer Rice said situations with teenagers are no different than those with adults. He advocates for treating teenagers not as bad kids, but rather normal people who just make mistakes.
“You don’t have to be harder on them, you don’t have to lecture them relentlessly, because they get it and you just hope they make better choices,” Rice said. “If you just talk to them like a human being, that’s the best way to do it.”
However, he mentions that if a problem or situation gets heated, police want to keep everything in check.
“If someone is being cooperative with you, then there’s no reason to escalate [the situation] at all,” Rice said. “[But if] you start yelling at me [then] I’m going to start bringing my [voice] up a little too.”
Rice also states that the difference in views or misunderstanding of situations causes cloudy relations between teens and police. Students often expect government figures like police to always do the right thing and say the right things, but Rice urges them to remember officers make mistakes too.
“Everybody’s human, everybody has a different breaking point or an anger level, but the bottom line is we are all human,” Rice said. “We try not to use profane language, and generally we don’t.”
Rice explains that one disrespectful action by an officer can tarnish the entire profession’s image.
Some officers may abuse or mishandle their power and makes them unapproachable, which is not their initial intent Rice believes.
“I know some individuals that are in their uniform and puff up their chest and become something they’re not,” he said.
According to Rice, a police officer’s job is to protect all citizens. In a city where the crime rate is less than one-third than that of the state of Ohio and the U.S. according to USA.com, police officers take on more neighborhood roles, like DARE officers, school resource officers and patrol officers in local areas like Market District.
“[Policing in UA] is definitely different in the style that you have to police,” Rice said. “We are more community policing-based.”
Community policing establishes officers as authoritative figures with whom citizens can interact with and can reach out for assistance. Despite this approach, students such as junior Meredith Grilliot do not feel UA’s police force is accessible in that manner.
“[Students] are very scared of police and they are a figure that students should feel comfortable going to and reaching out for help,” Grilliot said. “But [students] don’t feel that way.”
Statistics support Grilliot’s statement, showing that over half of the student population does not feel safe around police [see Seeing the Badge]. It was not specified whether the person would be doing anything illegal when seeing the officer.
It is evident that police officers, whether or not they have been excessively disrespectful, have not fulfilled the role as a reassuring figure in our community.
Sarah and Trabue understand officers’ duties as authorities, but hope officers would treat teenagers with more deference and take into consideration when their behavior is cooperative.
“It’s hard to respect a figure that’s willing to verbally assault 17-18-year-olds rather than an officer who is more respectful,” Trabue said.