Critter campaigns help student, police relations

Morgan Day

Students from Iowa State pose with Frank the Flamingo. Iowa State police talk to students about partying safely and stick a pink flamingo in the yard of where they go.

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Police Department

Credit: Ron Soltys

It’s clear Simon Squirrel, with his beady eyes and massive choppers, is one of a kind. His message that police aren’t the bad guys, however, is fairly common.

Iowa State’s Frank the Flamingo carried a similar message for students last semester when he promoted safe partying. Kent State Police Department Lt. William Buckbee said although the Simon campaign started small, the department is looking into adopting some of the programs Iowa State, in Ames, Iowa, has found successful.

One of the components of the Frank campaign was the party response team. Sgt. Liz Gries of the Iowa State Police Department said a group of about five officers would patrol Ames in a yellow car, equipped with flamingo key chains, head boppers and T-shirts that read, “The cops gave me the bird!” The team would arrive at parties in the late afternoon when students started grilling and drinking.

“We’d get out and just have conversations with folks and give them the T-shirts, give them information,” Gries said. “That was an opportunity for us to say, ‘OK, we’ll be around for the rest of the evening if you need us for anything.'”

Police gave the residents 6-foot yard flamingos to let the other police officers and students know that they had been there. Gries said the flamingos let the party-goers know the police department had developed a relationship at that house.

The first night of the Frank campaign, police gave out 1,000 T-shirts in the bars to pique students’ interests. They ran ads the next day in the Iowa State Daily and started the party patrol that weekend.

“People already knew we were coming, but then we actually had people begging us to stop by their parties, asking us to come to their house or the bar or wherever they were going to be,” Gries said.

The final reward of the campaign, Gries said, is that students were able to practice self-policing. She said it helped students realize police aren’t responsible for their parties – they are.

“Our goal was to create a better relationship between students and law enforcement so that if we did need to go out and help a student party get under control, we wouldn’t have such an adversarial situation,” Gries said, recalling a six-hour riot in Ames in 2004.

Gries had one suggestion for Kent State students if a similar campaign is adopted here: Be open-minded.

“Most of the police officers that work college law enforcement like college students. That’s why they’re here,” she said. “So be open to see what they have to offer and what they’re doing.”

She said most students she’s spoken with have said parties and barhopping have become more fun because they don’t feel threatened by police anymore.

Bridget Arble, sophomore human development and family studies major, said a campaign similar to Iowa State’s might work for Kent State as well.

“It sounds like a good way to promote things,” Arble, also a Facebook friend of Simon, said of the party patrol team.

Buckbee said Kent State’s student drinking situation isn’t as prominent as that of Iowa State’s, and Kent State also doesn’t have as much funding. However, Simon has been a moderate success at targeting students with humor and a softer touch, he said.

“We tried to look at ways other than citing people, and education is one of the things that came to mind,” Buckbee said.

Buckbee said students normally don’t drink to excess, but they might not realize the consequences of their actions. That’s where Simon steps in.

“You can listen to Simon and get a chuckle out of the goofy squirrel, or you can get stopped by the cops and get a citation,” Buckbee said. “I’d rather listen to Simon.”

Contact safety reporter Morgan Day at [email protected].