As Lt. John Johnson stood on downtown Main Street near the parking meters, drivers knew what that meant. Or so they thought.
"There were so many surprised faces when I pulled out a bag of quarters and paid their parking meters instead of pulling out a ticket book," laughed Johnson, a member of the Longwood University Police Department. "People aren’t used to seeing the police acting like that, but that was the point of the program."
The program was called "Feed the Meter," and, for one afternoon, Johnson made life a little less stressful for students preparing for exams and the holidays.
"They were all definitely a little shocked, but just my being there and paying the meter sparked a few conversations and more than a few laughs," said Johnson. Posts about the campaign caught fire on social media as students shared photos of Johnson with his quarters.
The outreach initiative was one of two community-minded programs implemented by the LUPD this semester. Another, called "Selfies with Police," was dreamed up by a student intern at the department, Rebecca Doody ’17, a criminal justice major. Students were challenged to take pictures of themselves with police officers on campus and post them to social media. The student with the most selfies was awarded Lancer Cash.
"This program was aimed at helping forge a stronger connection between Longwood students and police officers," said Longwood Police Chief Bob Beach at a press conference announcing the contest winner. "We want all students to feel comfortable approaching any member of the department, and this program gave students a friendly opportunity to talk to different officers one-on-one while taking a selfie."
Junior kinesiology major Deja Mills, the winner of the selfies contest, said it was encouraging to see the police department be so proactive in building relationships with students.
"Better relationships between police and community members is something I’m very passionate about," said Mills. "A lot of the time, people only have contact with the police when something bad happens, but these programs are great ways to get to see police officers in a different light. I was so happy to participate and excited that I won!"
For Beach, the programs build on his commitment to building the image of the police department on campus.
"Our goal is to communicate and become a transparent organization," said the 45-year veteran law enforcement officer. "We want to be an organization that the community sees not only as a service provider but also a dependable, capable and caring resource—one that takes its mission to serve and protect the community very seriously."
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