By Chief Michael Kessie and Captain Kathleen Vacca
As civil rights protests erupt throughout the world and American law enforcement comes under increasing scrutiny, New College’s Campus Police Department (CPD) intends to reinforce its commitment to community policing.
We condemn the senseless murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, and we are listening to the global calls to end police brutality and systemic racism.
CPD is a member of the Florida Police Chiefs Association (FPCA), which issued an official statement in early June in response to the Floyd murder.
“While many individual law enforcement leaders have spoken out on this issue, the more than 900 law enforcement leaders of the FPCA believe the gravity of the recent events in Minneapolis demands a clear and unified message,” said FPCA President Chief Kenneth Albano. “The problems and issues facing our nation that led to this tragedy are varied and complex, and deeply entrenched in the very fabric of our society, but we cannot let this happen again. We can and must be better.”
There is no rational justification for what happened. No law enforcement training or policies support such actions. In addition, officers who do not intervene when a person’s constitutional rights are being violated in their presence flout established case law and ethical policing standards.
Words cannot describe how we feel about this. That is not the kind of department that we run here, nor is it representative of the dedicated law enforcement officers serving communities across our country. It is imperative that the actions and conduct of the CPD reflect our key values of integrity, professionalism and respect. You can expect—and we will continue to cultivate—accountability.
The CPD’s main mission is to serve and protect both New College and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campuses. Our department is small and diverse. Over the years, we have had a mix of senior, Latinx, black and LGBTQIA+ members. There are 16 sworn positions (15 are currently filled) and six civilian positions (four are filled). Chief Kessie joined CPD in 2002 and Captain Vacca followed in 2017.
We want our department to represent the community we serve. We tell potential employees that, if they don’t think they can work with the diversity we have (in our agency and throughout the community), then they are in the wrong place.
Sensitivity training is also a key component of our operation, and opportunities to expand social and cultural awareness are continually increasing.
Captain Vacca has taught de-escalation (or “tactical communication”) classes to police members, as well as to campus staff and faculty. The CPD provides annual defensive tactics instruction and legal updates regarding the use of force. Officers practice maneuvers to control those who resist arrest. The training is rigorous and comprehensive. Officers are also quizzed on federal and state law, as well as policy.
We have participated in events like a weekend workshop called “Undoing Racism” and the “Inclusive Campus Climate Training” seminars on campus. For the last three years, we have hosted a two-day annual training retreat, where we look at the implications of 21st-century policing. Following a faculty member’s suggestion, we are also exploring a peer intervention program called Ethical Policing is Courageous (EPIC). All of these initiatives are designed to keep our employees informed and accountable.
Our role here is less about enforcement, and more about education and working together to prevent crime and keep our campus safe. We begin interacting with students and their families at orientation, and try to get them to graduation without getting themselves hurt. By being there when they need help—whether that is for a medical or a mental crisis, or just listening to everyday issues—we try to be a resource.
When requested, and depending on call volume, officers will escort students on campus at night. Many students know our officers by name, and they are encouraged to reach out regularly via phone, email or office visits. While the crime rate is very low and arrests are rare, the job also entails being proactive to prevent acts of violence.
We have always been open and transparent. Cultivating trust between community members and police is an ongoing effort—one made more difficult due to current events. But our team understands that the key to progress is fostering an understanding dialogue.
Captain Vacca was working with the St. Petersburg Police Department in 1996 when a confrontation between a motorist and officer turned violent. Civil unrest followed for weeks, resulting in damage to businesses and homes, as well as injury to protesters and officers alike. That experience profoundly shaped her perspective about the value of community policing.
“I think the real work since has been transforming police culture,” Vacca said. “Over the years, it has shifted from a warrior mindset to guardian. It’s an ever-evolving process. Our oath to protect people and uphold the Constitution is dual and simultaneous, not contradictory. We’re fortunate that New College encourages candid discussions about the intersectionality of diverse identities, race, poverty and more.”
Police interaction and services are designed to fit the campus culture and protect all students, faculty and staff. The CPD is a 24/7 operation. We hope to hear from you. Your input and perspective are valuable.
Please call 941-487-4210 or visit ncf.edu/police.