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Police aim to mend relations in College Park

Matt Zapotosky

Cops are people, too.

That was the message Prince George's County police officers hoped to send to University of Maryland students Thursday night at a "Welcome Back" event in College Park. The event was half education, half public relations, and police acknowledged that it was intended to mend police-student relations damaged in the wake of a videotape that showed three county officers beating an unarmed University of Maryland student after a basketball game in March.

Students donned beer goggles and drove around in a golf cart — an effort to show the dangers of drunk driving. They took a ride on the Maryland State Police’s “Convincer,” a device that straps people in and thrusts them forward to demonstrate the effectiveness of a seatbelt. And they simply chatted with cops.

“Something needed to be done for a while, but that was the impetus for it,” said Maj. Robert Liberati, commander of the police department’s district 1 station, referring to the riot and apparent police beating in March. “That’s not what we are. That’s not what the University of Maryland is…We’re a part of this community.”

Only a few dozen students made their way through the event — which also featured information booths and the police department’s band — and some complained it was not well advertised.

Mark Shorr, 21, a senior studying finance, said he made his way over to the police cars because he thought there had been a murder, but he thought the event generally helped mend relations between police and students.

“It’s a pretty strategic move by the county to put themselves back in the student’s good graces,” Shorr said. “You can kind of tell they’re trying to come across as friendlier…I think generally, cops, they’re people, too. At certain moments anybody in a position of power can get ahead of themselves.”

David Mitchell, the University of Maryland police chief, said the event was a way for officers to interact with students in a “non-confrontational, no crisis environment.” He said it is also part of a broader strategy for police to seek student input as they make security preparations for the next big basketball win that might produce a raucous celebration.

“I promised them they have a seat at the table,” he said.

Steve Glickman, the University of Maryland’s student body president, said there remains a “little sense of distrust with police officers” because of the incident in March, but events like Thursday’s help each side engage the other. Only time and more engagement, he said, will mend the relationship completely.

-- Matt Zapotosky

By Matt Zapotosky  |  September 3, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Matt Zapotosky , Pr. George's  
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Good government at work.

Posted by: mossmillennium | September 3, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

This is a good initiative. When I was in college in the 1970s, I often wound up being the unofficial mediator between my drunken frat brothers and the Baltimore City police. It's good to talk.

Posted by: Dave115 | September 3, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Want to mend relations? Fire and charge the corrupt cops who did this. Don't charge innocent men with made up crimes. And make sure officers turn in the corrupt cops and break down that ridiculous blue wall.

A few rides in a golf cart are not going to fix the trust issues.

Posted by: terpsy | September 5, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

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