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The Scarlet & Black

Campus Safety’s new patrol vehicles resemble police cars

One of the new Campus Safety cars, purchased for patrolling capabilities. Photo by Scott Lew.

Over winter break, Campus Safety acquired two new vehicles that closely resemble those used by police departments across the country. The purchases had been planned for a while – the previous interim director of Campus Safety had submitted a request to the Building, Maintenance and Equipment (BM&E) committee in 2016. 

In 2016, the request for new vehicles was not authorized. However, in 2017, James Shropshire, Director of Campus Safety, submitted another request for the same vehicles and specifications. This request was granted, leading to the purchase of the cars, which cost $34,000. Proposals sent to the BM&E committee must be for purchases that cannot be made in the regular budget cycle, and proposals are evaluated and ranked by priority. For example, a proposal submitted in 2017 would be funded in 2018, explaining why the car purchase occurred when it did.

According to Shropshire, there are several reasons for why the College purchased the new cars. “The primary reason was that the vehicle was designed specifically for patrol operations. The engine and transmission are specifically geared toward low speed travel with frequent stops, the vehicle being started and turned off multiple times a day, and a suspension tailored to in-town driving. The secondary reason was that these type of patrol vehicles are eligible for company fleet plans, thus we were able to leverage the College’s fleet account to receive an excellent price point as well as the fleet benefits for warranty and repair items,” wrote Shropshire in an email to The S&B.

Further, Shropshire believed the old cars needed to be replaced by newer and more efficient models. The previous Campus Safety cars, the purple truck and white van, were “mismatched in color, not designed for our operations, and had different College branding as they were purchased years apart,” wrote Shropshire. Additionally, both cars had over 100,000 miles and required regular maintenance.

However, many students feel uncomfortable with the aesthetics of these new cars, given their resemblance to police vehicles. As Shropshire explained, Campus Safety does serve the College community in the same way that police do, thus requiring that Campus Safety is prepared with the tools to best help them serve Grinnell College.

“I have general concerns that the tools, equipment, and uniforms that are designed for our type of work are strongly associated with Law Enforcement. Thus, due to the needs of ensuring operational success, we utilize these items that often evoke a variety of feelings from the community based upon their lived experience. My hope is that our daily interactions with the campus community reinforce our goal of being engaged, approachable, and when enforcement is necessary to do so from an educational stance as opposed to a punitive one,” wrote Shropshire.

After students arrived on campus, many took to social media to voice their opinions of the new cars, taking issue with the paint job and bull bars on the front fenders of the new cars. Shropshire explained that these aesthetic details were included to reflect the branding of the College, as this vehicle is operating in an official capacity.

“Incidentally, it has been my experience that the push bumper also significantly decreases the damage to the front bumper, frame, and engine casing if it is struck head on in an accident.  This is not the intended purpose of the equipment, but it is a nice fringe benefit of the equipment,” Shropshire wrote.

“I recognize the need for an update in campus safety vehicles, but that need should be fulfilled without evoking an image that can make many community members feel uncomfortable or unsafe to interact with campus safety,” wrote Sam Xu ’20 in an email to The S&B.

Shropshire recognizes that such negative associations exist with the new cars, but he feels that this purchase is worthwhile and can help Campus Safety better serve the College community.

“I hope that we can assuage any concerns that students might have about the use of equipment with a cop aesthetic through our daily positive interactions with the campus community … I would invite anyone who was interested to meet with me to come see our patrol vehicles, review the functionality of the equipment and its intended purpose in the context of our work, and exhibit the key differences between a safety vehicle and a police vehicle,” explained Shropshire.

When asked how he would respond to students who feel that the image and associations of the cars outweigh their potential value, Shropshire wrote: “I would affirm their lived experience and what law enforcement tools, equipment, and uniforms represent to them. I would look to explain the value of these items to the Department of Campus Safety and the college community and invite them to discuss ways in which our department can positively interact with and impact the community despite the use of law enforcement equipment that might create a negative perception.”

While some students are struck by the appearance of campus safety’s new vehicles, for others it does promote feelings of insecurity with the vehicles patrolling campus.

“I’m not really bothered by them. [Campus Security] have continuously been nothing but kind to me, once offering to fix my bike so I didn’t have to pay for it, and another time driving me to Frontier on my birthday,” wrote Lana Katai ’21 in a message to The S&B. “I understand some people are uncomfortable with our campus’s safety, which is completely valid. But honestly, I personally feel safer with these intimidating cars driving around because Grinnell is really scary and dark at night.”

The S&B reached out to the Interim Chief Diversity Officer, Leslie Gregg-Jolly, and the Assistant Director of Intercultural Affairs, Jordan Brooks, for comment. Both parties declined to comment on how the newly-purchased vehicles might affect student safety dynamics on campus.

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