As Huskers have returned to residence halls for the spring semester, they’re seeing familiar faces in different uniforms patrolling the hallways.
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln Police Department updated its community service officer uniforms to make the security guards more approachable and solidify their role as protectors within the residence halls.
The new uniforms of red polo and khaki pants are designed to make students more comfortable around the officers and help build relationships between the security staff and residence life. The new design replaces a grey shirt and black pants uniform that has been in place since 2011. The old uniform mimiced university police uniforms and sometimes led students to feel like security team members were patrolling halls to enforce rules rather than serve as protectors.
UNLPD changed its Community Service Officers’ (CSO) uniforms to make the security guards more approachable and solidify their role as protectors within the residence halls.
Hassan Ramzah, chief of police, and his team initiated the uniform change after reviewing a third-party assessment of the department. A section of the assessment included students’ perception of safety.
“Some students felt that police or CSOs were overzealous in trying to enforce violations in residence halls, or that we were basically waiting to catch students in a ‘gotcha’ moment,” Ramzah said. “That’s not our purpose for being there. Our overall goal is ensuring safety and making sure our students in residence halls live in a safe and protected environment.”
Ramzah recognized that the old uniforms demonstrated a power imbalance and could make some students feel unsafe, as students often assumed that CSOs were campus police officers due to the similarity in uniform.
“We recognize that residence halls are homes for students, and whether perception or reality, no one wants to come home every day and see police at their front door, not everyone feels comfortable in that setting,” Ramzah said. “We want students to feel comfortable and safe around our public safety personnel. Residence halls are places where students eat, sleep, study and relax. So as a department, we want to do what we can to make sure that we’re contributing to an environment where students can be successful.”
A change in uniform is just the first action step to making students feel safer and more protected. The university police department’s goal for the community service officers is to promote a safe environment and serve students. And, the officers aim to build relationships with students as an extension of the residence life team.
Ramzah worked with residence life staff members to design a new uniform that supports these goals. Ultimately, the red polo shirt with Nebraska branding and khaki utility pants were selected.
“Community service officers are an important visible presence in the residence halls, providing assistance with safety and security concerns,” said Jeanne Keyser, associate director of residence life. “The new CSO uniform will set a more comfortable, welcoming atmosphere of approachability and support.”
The uniform is designed to be more comfortable for officers and less intimidating towards students, while still being recognizable for students to reach out to when they need help.
“It is important for us to be approachable to build trust, and to take the steps needed to build positive working relationships,” Ramzah said. “We want students to view our CSO team as campus guardians, and changing the uniform is one of the ways we can demonstrate our commitment to supporting students while working to enhance overall safety in residence halls.”