ABINGTON, Pa. — Strained relationships with law enforcement in many communities nationwide led proactive Penn State Abington students to invite local police to campus Dec. 6 so they could open a dialogue.
The Black Student Union and the Justice Association teamed up with three Abington Township officers to discuss issues including interacting with police and controversies involving law enforcement, race and diversity.
Lt. Kelley Warner, a 27-year veteran and adjunct instructor at Abington, said it's critical to do the work necessary and establish long-term relationships.
“The culture and the goal in Abington is to be the bridge and partner with our community,” she said. When problems arise, she added, people tend to be more willing to collaborate when they have a positive history.
Warner said one incident in particular made her more thoughtful about the experiences others endure. A driver accused Warner, then a young officer, of racial motives during a traffic stop.
“I thought: 'You don’t know anything about me so how can you say that?'” she said. “And then I realized people judge him because of his race, and they judge me because of this very uncomfortable uniform I wear.”
“I know that we can change the environment. ... We are all community builders."
-- Officer Ron Griffith
The students asked the officers about their thoughts on recent police-involved shootings such as those in Ferguson and Chicago.
“I know that we can change the environment,” said Ron Griffith, a retired New York City police officer who now manages animal control in Abington. “You brought us here to open up a dialogue. We are all community builders.”
Officer Roger Gillespie, a 22-year veteran, stood firm about the conduct of any suspect.
"I arrest people for breaking the law, no matter if they are police or civilians," he said directly.
The officers made the following suggestions to students who asked about behavior during police stops:
• Stay calm and remain inside the vehicle
• Know where to find your credentials (license, insurance)
• Keep hands within view
• Listen to instructions
• Don't scream or act confrontational