The University of Houston’s second annual Behind the Badge event returned to a smashing success with 494 attendees – almost double the first event held in 2019. Behind the Badge coincided with the university’s Weeks of Welcome activities, and its success shows the importance of having the event.
This community engagement event allows the UH community to meet and talk with the UH Police Department, local law enforcement agencies, and university departments supporting safety on campus.
“The success of this event in fall 2022 shows that students, faculty, and staff are looking for opportunities to connect with university resources such as all of the departments and agencies that provide a network of safety for our community,” said Dr. Emily Messa, UH System Senior Associate Vice Chancellor and UH Senior Associate Vice President for Administration.
This year, the local law enforcement agencies joining UHPD were the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the Houston Police Department, and Harris County Precincts 5 and 6.
The departments present from Administration and Finance included Equal Opportunity Services, Parking and Transportation, Fire & Safety, and the Office of Emergency Management.
“Community engagement events like Behind the Badge help reinforce the importance of our role in fostering an environment of safety across the UH community,” said Richard Zagrzecki, department outreach manager for Parking and Transportation Services.
The event was educational as attendees were treated to presentations regarding the UH Go App, virtual parking permits, and UH crime prevention. Additionally, each respective department and law enforcement agency hosted a booth with information to learn about the different safety programs available and how to utilize them when needed.
And visiting each booth paid off for students.
As attendees entered the event, they were given a passport card. When they visited each booth, the department or law agency provided safety information to students and stamped the student’s passport. Once attendees filled passports with all the departmental stamps, they received a free event t-shirt.
For UH Police Chief Cesar Moore, the event is an opportunity to humanize the badge and let the UH community meet the officers they see.
“I think if they [students] see us as humans and officers, a lot of the communication issues that occur wouldn’t happen,” said Moore.
“In law enforcement, one of our biggest areas of growth is being better communicators. I think officers nowadays have to be better communicators. So, we’re not escalating situations because of the way we communicate.”
Communication between the UH community and law enforcement officers happened throughout the event. Each party listened to one another, and there’s no doubt that students were the prime beneficiaries.
“It’s always a great time whenever students on our campus can connect to the people that are serving us,” said Student Government Association President Josh Martin. “It’s so monumental that the officers are taking time out of their busy schedules to make sure they can sit down with us, meet with us, talk with us, and eat with us so that they can make sure that we emphasize campus safety.”
For some students, like freshman Braddock Mitchell Parks II, it was eye-opening to see what all the departments do.
“I knew there was a campus police department, but I didn’t know there were so many different parts of it. Like I thought there was just like campus police that you can call them out that would come in if it got too loud at a party,” said Parks. “I didn’t know there was a gender awareness group, and a fire safety group, and all the different things to keep us safe.”
Should the university hold this event annually? For Martin, it’s a resounding yes.
“This definitely should be done year by year,” said Martin. “Because I think every year you have new students that come in and you have old students that come out, so we definitely want to keep emphasizing that we are emphasizing campus safety, and we are very thankful for everything that the officers are doing for us.”
One of the new students at UH this semester is transfer student Catherine Rodriguez. Event participants provided the junior with a crash course in the different safety measures the university provides.
Rodriguez said she was unaware that UH had a department that dealt with sexual assault and was grateful the university put this event together to educate incoming students on these services.
In the end, Behind the Badge is about educating and connecting the UH community to the safety resources available to them, and this year’s version accomplished that.