A recent partnership with campus police is improving the environment at the Northern Illinois University (NIU) Recreation Center. All sworn officers on campus now have free access to the facility if they choose to use the opportunity.
Natasha Johnson, the assistant athletic director for NIU Recreation, said the idea for this collaboration began when an officer brought forth a proposal for discounted services at the facility for department members.
“Upon looking further into this, we realized it would be great to have our campus police utilizing our facility,” said Johnson. “This would not only keep the officers in shape but, most importantly, bridge the gap between them and our students.”
Johnson said there is additional taxation since the partnership is considered a fringe benefit for officers. However, they are allowed to work out for free at any time while Recreation facilities are open. All they need is their campus OneCard ID to swipe in. In comparison, an annual all-inclusive membership to the NIU Rec Center for faculty and staff, alumni, and retirees is $250 and $300 for general community members.
Officers have free access to 100,000-plus square feet of recreation space which includes eight multipurpose courts for basketball, volleyball, tennis, pickleball and badminton, three multi-training spaces, two racquetball/wallyball courts, two group fitness studios, one three-lane jogging/walking track, adventure center, and bouldering room.
Positive Developments and Advice
Johnson said there are fewer calls for campus police to respond to disputes on the basketball courts since they started coming to the facility more frequently. Also, there has been a reduction in lost or misplaced items in lockers which has led to stronger facility policies.
“This partnership has eliminated the issues we had with theft in our men’s locker rooms,” said Johnson. “Maybe just knowing officers are around more than just for calls has helped make this an issue of the past. The police are grateful to have these benefits and see the value in connecting with students in a different way.”
The hope moving forward is police will begin to connect more with students via basketball games or pickleball. But just being noticed when they are lifting weights and using the facility also helps enhance the vibe on campus. Johnson said her department is already seeing students settle in and connect with Recreation staff and campus police in a new way.
For other schools looking to build similar beneficial partnerships with other campus entities, Johnson said to first look at your current needs.
“Understand what problem or issue you are looking to fix while being sure to keep your students at the forefront of everything you do,” said Johnson. “For example, if students get into fights, they may have to go through Student Conduct and if the results are not favorable, they could be removed from the institution. Coming up with solutions like this helps retention and ultimately helps our students meet the goal of graduating.”
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