Police Services puts serious tone to ‘Simon says’

Steve Bushong

Sports Illustrated has called the toothy black-furred import “the nation’s scariest mascot.” Kent State University Police Services is calling him its new spokes-squirrel.

Whatever his distinction, his name is Simon, and he has come forward with a benevolent message for Kent State students about the consequences of risky behavior.

Police officials hope the unusual image of a squirrel beaming his pearly whites will attract attention in a way uniformed officers do not.

“Sometimes guns and badges are an obstruction to communication,” said Lt. William Buckbee. “We wanted to create a mascot capable of getting out a message that would be better received than a cop.”

The idea itself is a spin-off of Iowa State’s Frank the Flamingo, who promoted safe partying.

Police officials are having Simon deliver broader advice.

Simon says, “Don’t smoke dope” and “The world is not your bathroom,” among other messages, which go on to detail the consequences for such actions.

Officer Alice Ickes said after students are arrested, many say they didn’t know the consequences for infractions, such as smoking marijuana — which could be a fine, loss of loans and scholarships, loss of driving privileges and a referral to Judicial Affairs, Simon says.

Buckbee said a lot of students get caught up in partying their first year and don’t make it back to Kent State as sophomores.

“We know people party. We just don’t want them to party to the point of getting in trouble,” Buckbee said.

“When you look at a university setting, high-risk behavior really has a negative effect on the quality of life,” Ickes said.

The police have been getting Simon’s message out through Daily Kent Stater ads, fliers, Facebook, public appearances and peanut packages, which have a link to the Simon Says Web site printed on the side.

Sara Hennon, senior justice studies major and auxiliary service officer, is involved with Simon’s Facebook account, a group called “Simon Squirrel.”

“We thought (Facebook) would be a good way to reach students on their level,” Hennon said.

Simon was created over the summer on a tight budget and with limited time. And originally, the idea for Simon met resistance.

Director of Public Safety John Peach said he was a bit skeptical of the idea. But as more of his staff heard about Simon, excitement grew, and he found himself interested as well, he said.

“Simon has surprised me greatly,” Peach said. “It’s an out-of-the-box approach to crime prevention.”

Students opinions of Simon are mixed.

“I think if you saw Simon it’d definitely attract attention because it’s so out there,” freshman exploratory major James Richards said.

Apurva Padubidri, junior integrated life sciences major, said she thinks Simon won’t be easily noticed.

“I think it will work the same as those signs they have everywhere that say three of four Kent State students drink,” she said.

“(Students) already know there are going to be consequences to their actions,” freshman theatre major Mandy Swing said. “I think they’ll do it anyway.”

Whether the still-fledgling Simon Says project is a success will be determined by statistics and focus groups. If a rising crime rate on campus pans out or decreases, it was a successful endeavor, Buckbee said.

“If it’s a total failure, we’ll probably scrap it,” he said.

So far, the only negative reaction Ickes and Buckbee have heard about is Simon’s unnatural smile.

“If he’s scaring everyone, he may need cosmetic surgery,” Ickes said.

Contact safety reporter

Steve Bushong

at [email protected]