BLOOMSBURG, Pa. — Local law enforcement officers from Bloomsburg University and the surrounding communities joined students for meals at the main dining hall last Wednesday.
Cops joined students for lunch between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. and for dinner between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Scranton Commons.
Taking into consideration several unfortunate events affecting the campus community this semester, the event could not have come at a better time.
Advertisements for the “DINE WITH A COP” event described it as a “chance for local law enforcement departments to share a meal with students and let students know that law enforcement officers are here to keep them safe and answer any questions.”
Officer John Lennon of the Bloomsburg University Police Department echoed that statement, saying that it was a way for officers to interact with students and show them that they are here to “support encouragement and growth for the student body.”
And Lennon has been doing just that. He formed a bond with a group of students he met while conducting dorm checks in Columbia Hall last academic year. Those students, Karissa Wondoloski, Kiley Straub, Bethanny Boyce, Allison O’Donnell, and Jess Ott, were delighted to have lunch with Lennon on Wednesday.
“I’ve always wanted to dine with Officer Lennon!” said Straub.
Chip from Commons said that the cops were at the dining hall to mingle with the crowds because they “want students to understand and realize what they can do.”
Gabriel Miller, a student at BU, visited during lunch hours. He talked to Chief Leo Sokoloski of BUPD.
“[Sokoloski] was very interested in communicating with students and hearing their concerns,” said Miller, who inquired about the escort service recommended to students in an email following a sexual assault on upper campus.
Some students enjoyed the opportunity to have a one-on-one interaction with the cops because it allowed them to view the officers as people, rather than their job positions.
Boyce commented that while cops are always around, being able to see them “as normal people is really cool.”
Another student, Wondoloski, agreed, saying that it was “cool to relate to what [the cops] are doing.”
The event was the first of its kind to happen at Bloomsburg University.
Chip said it could have been organized following the campus protests the week prior, when students addressed issues regarding diversity, inclusion and safety at BU.
Lennon believes it was in part a response to the Philadelphia riots and people putting down police officers.
He was an officer at a university in Virginia where there were similar programs in place to facilitate a relationship between students and law enforcement.
However, those programs were “not as proactive” as BU’s “DINE WITH A COP” event.
The event left a lasting impression on student attendees, such as Miller who said it was “really relaxed.”
“All the officers seemed to be having a good time.”
Over the course of the semester, BUPD has faced sharp criticism by the student body for their handling of duties amidst adverse events.
A tweet from Jovan Garrison, below, gained a lot of traction earlier this month, showing that many students doubt the safety of the campus.
Our campus seriously needs to do something about the safety of their students. @BloomsburgU Campus police are more worried about people parking in the wrong spot than the sexual assaults that happen on our campus.— juicy j (@jovan_garrison) November 5, 2019
Others assure that campus is safe and this event was a way to demonstrate that claim.
“This is a safe university. [The cops] are here to back that up,” said Chip.
Lennon provides protection for students on a daily basis through his work with BUPD. As a community resource officer, he loves hanging out with students and protecting them when they are away from their support systems at home.
Straub said that Lennon “always makes sure we are safe and sound.”
The police force is an extension of the family according to Lennon, as they are around 24/7 and cheer for students’ success.
“We’re not here to put them down—we’re here to help them.”
Featured image: A group of students share a meal and laughter with a BUPD officer. From left, Karissa Wondoloski, Officer John Lennon, Kiley Straub, Bethanny Boyce, Allison O’Donnell, and Jess Ott gather around a table in the Scranton Commons dining hall for lunch. Photo by Catherine Rose.