BLACKSBURG, Va. – The Virginia Tech Police Department wants people to know why officers make the decisions they do. It’s a focus on transparency and police say it’s helping improve its relationship with the people they serve.
Police Chief Kevin Foust says the university is trying to educate its students and staff on police tactics.
"In law enforcement, we do a pretty good job of teaching our community, 'Here's how we want you to react when these things happen,’” Foust said. “We don't do an adequate job in law enforcement, at all, in teaching them, 'Here's how we might respond in these certain circumstances.'"
Police explain what they might do when they pull a driver over, when they show up for a noise complaint or arrive for a shots-fired call. Virginia Tech police started teaching students about their tactics during optional sessions early this year. Then they made the classes mandatory at student orientation, which finished last week.
"I think there's a great disconnect in society between the community and the police that serve those communities on how we are trained,” Foust said.
He says he thinks the efforts are leading to a better relationship with the community.
Radford University criminal justice professor Dr. Tod Burke says it’s a good strategy.
"When the public has trust in the police, whether they feel the police are being held accountable for their actions, they're transparent, they're more likely to come to the police,” Burke said.
Video of officer-involved shootings around the country cause people to react in different ways. Foust says every incident has different circumstances. Police sometimes act appropriately, sometimes inappropriately, but he says in the future, police transparency could help avoid some of the conflict seen recently across the country.
"The folks who are being critical of the police department, and in some cases it's deserved and in some cases it is not, the folks who are being critical probably don't understand how we are trained,” he said.
Foust says Virginia Tech police will continue to teach students and staff about their training throughout the school year.