To conclude the Arrest the Fear series, the Intercultural Student Engagement Center and the Bowling Green Police Department held a Guys Night Out and Ladies Night Out for students to have candid discussions with police officers.
In the Ladies Night Out session, the students and the officers discussed topics like career changes, fear of police, sexism and hardships faced by female officers.
Donitka Boyett, a police officer for the BGPD, explained how seeing Black people fear her makes her feel.
“When Black males get pulled over by the police,” Boyett said. “I don’t want them to be scared. I worked the night shift for a long time, and when I would see young Black guys, I can see [the] fear in their eyes, and that hurt my heart.”
Another topic that was discussed is how loved ones feel about them working in law enforcement. Jess Rager is also a police officer for the BGPD, and she explained how her mother felt about her career.
“She is so worried constantly,” Rager said. “Especially with the civil unrest recently. She has been begging me to change my career.”
Boyett shared that her parents have similar feelings about her being a police officer.
“It definitely affects people you love the most,” Boyett said. “The day I can retire and hang this up, [my parents] will be ecstatic.”
Regardless of how their loved ones feel, they explained that being in law enforcement is what they want to do.
“I absolutely love it,” Rager said. “I think that all the heartbreak and hard times I went through in my early 20s really brought me here. It paid off in the end because I am very proud of the place that I am at.”
At the Guy’s Night Out, the officers answered students’ questions about their life, why they choose their profession, and lighthearted topics like crying or flirting to get you out of a ticket, which, by the way, won’t work.
The students, however, didn’t shy away from asking serious questions about being on the force during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, COVID-19 regulations and ongoing mental health struggles that come with the job.
“We’re not only under extreme scrutiny but we’re understaffed from officers taking extended time off due to COVID-19 symptoms and exposure,” WKU Police Chief Mitch Walker said. “Everything you see on TV and media is glamourized. It’s 10 minutes of excitement followed by four hours of paperwork.”
BGPD Chief of Police Michael Delaney opened up about on-going mental health struggles that come with being on the force.
“I still remember my first night out as an officer,” Delaney said. “I got a call about a child being sexually abused. That was 1998, and I’ll never forget it. We deal with every aspect of a crime scene and having conversations like these are the most helpful thing for that carried weight.”
These sessions acted as a chance for students to get to know the police department better. The hope is to begin dissolving tensions between students, specifically minorities, and WKU and Bowling Green police officers.
“You should never be pulled over by a police officer you’ve never met.” Walker said. “We’re people just like you. We want students of all ethnicities to feel they can walk up and talk about a basketball game or talk about the community.”
The program plans to continue hosting events like these for students and officers to have an open dialogue with the community.
Debra Murray can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @debramurrayy
Sean Snyder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @seanwsnyder