FPU, police sign shared principles

Move signals stronger working relations

RINDGE — After several years of building communications and strengthening a healthy working relationship between the two, the Rindge Police Department and Franklin Pierce University signed a Statement of Principles, outlining the way the two will communicate and cooperate in the future. It’s the first understanding of its kind between the department and university, according to Police Chief Frank Morrill, but one the officials of both institutions plan to renew every year.

The Statement of Principles was signed Thursday by the police chief and James Birge, president of Franklin Pierce University. The priority is to emphasize student safety and increase communications between the Police Department and the university, according to the written principles. The signing was a culmination of the improved relationship on both sides, said Director of University Relations & Creative Services

Lisa Murray, and a large part of that is due to the efforts of a Town and Gown Committee.

“The Town and Gown Committee has been meeting for a number of years, and through that vehicle, the townspeople, the police and the college have worked together to come to a better understanding. The statement is a culmination of that,” said Murray in an interview Monday. “A really good, healthy collaborative relationship is enjoyed now by both sides, and the statement reflects that.”

The principles state that all felonies that occur on campus will be reported to Rindge police, as required by law. And activities on campus the adversely affect the safety of Franklin Pierce University community or town residents will be, too. Also, Department of Campus Safety agrees that victims or witnesses of crimes will be strongly encouraged to report those incidents to police, and will facilitate that communication. Campus Safety will also work with Rindge police when incidents arise that require a joint effort.

On the other end, police agreed to make the university aware of any ongoing, chronic problems involving university students in the community or other unacceptable behavior, to allow the school to respond with its own level of educational or corrective discipline. The university and police agreed to have a monthly dialogue regarding student safety and to maintain a relationship with the university’s Campus Safety department. Police will also share its annual campus-related crime report, while the university shares its campus crime and fire report with Rindge police.

Former Rindge Police Chief Mike Sielicki, who now works as police chief in Kensington, said in an interview Monday that while he worked in Rindge, he was behind a push to have more reporting between the university and police. Included in that was a legislative effort in 2010 to require colleges and universities to report all on-campus crimes to local police, not just felonies. The senate found the bill inexpedient to legislate, and the bill was effectively killed. Sielicki said relations between police and the college did improve, however, after a change in school administration and a greater working relationship with James Birge, who took over as the new president of Franklin Pierce in 2009. “Since then, the whole tone of cooperation has changed for the better,” said Sielicki. “With the prior administration, there was a lot of issues. [Birge’s] willingness to sit at the table and listen to the town’s needs went a long way towards making that happen.”

Sielicki said he was glad to see that an agreement, which the department and university had been working on during his tenure but had yet to finalize before he left in May 2012, has been signed. “It’s nice to hear that they finally have one in place,” he said. Especially as Rindge is a small town, he said, with a small police staff, and can allow the university to handle more of its own policing, so long as there is a strong relationship between the two, and a good understanding of the penalties and consequences for matters handled in-house.

Rindge has a population of approximately 6,014 according to the 2010 census, and the town employs eight full-time officers and three part-time officers. Last year, Franklin Pierce had a student population of 1,370, and employs 11 full-time and three part-time Campus Safety officers.

Chief Morrill said it has been a personal and professional goal of his to put in place a statement of principles since he became police chief more than a year ago. It’s an effort that’s been ongoing for more than six years, but had yet to come together until now, said Morrill in an interview Monday. Over the past four years, however, the Police Department and university have made a concentrated effort to augment working relationships and communications. “If there was ever a time to do this, it was at the height of our relationship,” said Morrill. “And it’s my sincere hope that, although the presidents and chiefs may change, these principles of conduct will be able to live on.”

All of the points laid out in the statement of principles have been routine practice, at least in the time he’s been chief, said Morrill. “I thought it was important to take into consideration what we routinely do,” he said.

Aside from acknowledging what is required of the relationship between the university and police by law, such as reporting felonies, the rest of the principals are geared toward fostering communications, he noted.

Nearby Keene State College also has a close working relationship with its Police Department, although it’s not laid out in the same way, according to Kelly Ricaurte, the media relations manager at Keene State. Keene State pays the equivalent of the salary and benefits of one additional police officer to the City of Keene, and that officer works as a police liaison officer with the college.

“We recognize the added resource needs that an increase of 5,000 students adds to the department,” said Ricaurte. “The liaison officer works very closely with the college on college-related police issues, and it’s an arrangement we’ve used since the 1990s.” The officer is not dedicated solely to Keene State, she said, though a large portion of duties are dedicated to campus activity.

Keene State does not have an official written agreement on how and when communication happens between the college and the Police Department, said Ricaurte, but campus safety makes contact every week with the liaison officer, and the college has regular contact with the officer to report crime on campus.

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