Written by Alicia Baker, MA, MPH, CHES, Health Promotion Specialist, GatorWell Health Promotion Services at the University of Florida
When I started working as a Health Promotion Specialist at GatorWell in November 2014, I knew I was coming into an office that placed an emphasis on innovation and collaboration internally and externally. While there are numerous stakeholders GatorWell engages with on a regular basis, our city and campus police forces have been particularly integral to my work in Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) programming and education. The University of Florida Police Department and GatorWell have an established collaborative relationship and here are just a few key points on how that professional relationship was developed and sustained:
1.) Start at the Top: if you’re new to your position and unsure where to start in creating that relationship with campus police, one suggestion is to contact the Chief of your police force (city, campus, or both). Clearly state why you’re reaching out and be proactive by offering to set up that initial conversation. The Community Services Division is another great department to contact.
2.) Two Worlds Collide: Understand that police training is different from public health and health promotion training. Police in general experience the side of campus alcohol and drug use that is more secondary and tertiary: emergency responders, intoxicated and belligerent students, bar fights and crowd control. Their insight and opinions around reducing high risk drinking and drug use may differ from your own, as law enforcement are looking at the issue through a different lens. Use your first meeting as an opportunity to understand their role and to help clarify your role in AOD prevention. Share what your office offers – even if it’s just content knowledge – and how it can be helpful in their efforts and initiatives. Given the laws and regulations that are intricately tied to alcohol and drug use, consulting and fact checking with campus police will greatly improve your work as a prevention specialist or health educator.
3.) Utilize Resources: On your end, one way to help guide the conversation is to share NIAAA’s College AIM Matrix with stakeholders including law enforcement. This resource highlights the research conducted on best practices on the college health promotion level and the environmental and policy level. This will not only be a physical document that lays out what you can and already do, but provides strategies and validates any best practices currently being implemented on your campus. From personal experience, this tool has been helpful in educating campus and community stakeholders about comprehensive strategies to address high risk drinking and the negative consequences.
4.) Identify Ways to Collaborate: Don’t just leave your working relationship with campus police as a one-time introductory meeting. If you are presenting to student groups around campus, obtain feedback from campus police on the various state laws and local ordinances that directly impact students. If you are creating an event or awareness week, invite law enforcement to table or create an activity to directly engage with students. If your department and campus police are both involved in student conduct sanctions, develop a plan as to how you’re both approaching the sanction option to ensure the information presented is current and consistent.
5.) Foster and Sustain Involvement: Chances are your position involves sitting on at least one or two committees, including an alcohol prevention and education committee. Law enforcement is an important presence at these meetings, as they can provide a valuable perspective or be a voice that reinforces and supports your stance on a particular issue.
In summary, law enforcement is an integral part of the work to address high risk drinking and negative consequences. Making a conscious effort to create and sustain a working relationship between health promotion and law enforcement will benefit all parties, especially your student body.