By Sarah Stubbs
The first of the two finalists for a Chief of Police at The University of Findlay recently told members of the campus community that his experience will help establish trust between the new hybrid police-security department and the rest of the campus.
On Nov. 9, the first finalist, Alexander Bebris, participated in an open session for students, faculty, and staff. In his opening remarks, Bebris spoke about the strained relationship and lack of trust between the police and citizens throughout the country right now and his policing philosophies.
“That trust relationship has been broken maybe in some of those larger cities but in our smaller communities, and with our localized, specialized, police departments in small towns, I think very much you will find that they do have their finger on the pulse of the community,” Bebris said.
Bebris is currently the Chief of Police and Fire for Oakwood, Ohio: a small city outside of Dayton with a population of about 9,000. He has served as Chief since 2006.
Bebris said that his experience in serving a small community will help with establishing trust between officers and UF students, should he be selected.
During the session, Bebris fielded questions from students, faculty, and staff about his policing policies and his plans for the new department at UF.
A University student at the session on Monday asked Bebris how he envisions establishing trust with the student population.
Bebris’s immediate response was: “The only thing that builds trust is time and a person getting to know you.”
He also said that students could look at his experience and ask community members how they felt about the various police departments he held leadership in.
“That’s the only real thing you have is that person’s track record and what they do to you in your interactions to build that trust,” Bebris said.
With the establishment of a police department, despite the fact that UF is a private institution, the department would still be subject to the freedom of information laws, or the right to public records.
Asked how he felt about dealing with the press, Bebris said that it wasn’t his “strongest point” or “forte.”
“I’m not comfortable doing it, it’s just it’s not something I like. I would much rather be in the background,” Bebris said.
Bebris said that he is not opposed to doing interviews or allowing his officers to do interviews, but traditionally he prefers that the officers get the interview cleared with himself or the PIO first – particularly for ongoing cases.
“If I can avoid it, I try to avoid it, because like I said it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s not what I like to do,” said Bebris.
Bebris said he’s particularly interested in serving as Chief of Police at UF because it’s a brand new department.
“To be a part of the genesis of something new is a very intriguing thing. To go in and create something not to fix someone else’s mistake but maybe to start something off on the right foot to begin with – that’s what I’m looking for,” said Bebris.
Although Bebris says he’s looking “to find a home that’s going to challenge me and allow me to use my skills that I’ve developed over the years,” he said that he sees himself retiring in eight to 10 years.
Part of Oakwood borders The University of Dayton’s campus and Bebris says this experience has taught him about policing college students.
Asked what he anticipated being the biggest challenge in policing college students, Bebris’s answer had three parts.
According to Bebris, housing near UD is “not nicely compartmentalized” and that is a big challenge for the Oakwood community because there are rented, college houses having parties in between families who own their home.
Bebris also said of college students, “They don’t understand why they can’t park anywhere they like.”
Bebris said that 90-95 percent of the problems in Oakwood, dealing with college students, were social maintenance and order maintenance issues.
“They’re not big criminal activity, they’re college students doing something stupid,” Bebris said.
During the session, Bebris spoke primarily about trust and little about policy since the end model for UF’s security-police department is not fully developed yet.
One issue Bebris touched on was what kinds of issues he sees constituting a security officer rather than a police officer and vice-versa.
Bebris said events, for example, don’t always need an armed officer present, rather they just need someone for crowd control or traffic flow. Bebris said that another difference, perhaps, lies in perimeter security versus internal security.
Bebris said UF’s police force would be responsible for the campus-owned property as well as immediate and adjacent streets.
A concern with college students on a dry campus, according to one student present at the session, is fear that a request for help might result in an arrest or a citation. Bebris told the audience that there are actually few ordinances or statutes in the state of Ohio that require someone to be arrested.
“You don’t get a free pass just because you’re a University student. Your consequence may not be a citation — it may be some sort of disciplinary process through the University. And I don’t think that necessarily condones bad behavior,” Bebris said. “If you’re not posing a danger to somebody else, you’re probably not going to get a citation for that. But that’s not to say you won’t be subject to disciplinary action through the University.”
At the end of the hour-long session students, faculty, and staff present were given an evaluation form that was to be turned in to Matthew Bruskotter, assistant dean for environmental, safety, security, and emergency management.
Another open campus session will be held Monday, Nov. 16 at 4 p.m. Dave Emsweller, vice president for student affairs, said that more information about the next session will be released at the end of next week.
Emsweller encourages students to attend these open sessions so that they may participate in this process.