New police chief strives to establish stronger relationship with students

Washington and Lee students and new-to-town police chief have both said the nature of student interactions with law enforcement can be improved


Lexington Chief of Police Sam Roman is sworn in to his new role on Oct. 2. Photo courtesy of Lexington Police Department Facebook page

Bryn McCarthy

Some Washington and Lee students have expressed grievances over the past few years regarding interactions with local law enforcement, but with a new police chief in town, there’s an opportunity for change.

Lexington’s newly appointed chief of police, Sam Roman, was sworn in Oct. 2. Roman said he is always looking for opportunities to build upon what he feels is an already positive relationship between students and officers.

“I would venture to say that the relationship is good so far,” he said. “But certainly there is always room to improve.”

Several university students, though, said that while relations with law enforcement are not necessarily bad, they could cer- tainly be improved.

Corson Purnell, ’19, had a run-in with police last year when he was arrested on several charges, ranging from allegedly be- ing a minor in possession of alcohol to running from an of cer. He said he understands he was guilty of breaking the law, but he feels several of the charges were “very unnecessary.”

“I know I made a mistake in running from the police,” he said. “But there is no way I did several of the other things they said I did, and I had to pay the price for everything they thought I did.”

Another student, who has chosen to remain anonymous, agreed that at times, local law enforcement of cers do not treat students as respectfully as she thought they should.

“As a sophomore girl, I hadn’t had any experience being mistreated by authorities in the past,” she said. “It was a little

discomforting to see how quickly they treated us like criminals — not like students trying to get themselves home safely.”

The student said she was walking home from a party when she was pulled over, “harshly” pushed against a police car, handcuffed and shoved into the back of the vehicle behind metal caging. She said she was then taken to jail and forced to share a cell with another inmate, who was arrested for attacking her mother.

“[The inmate] said she pulled a knife on her mom, because they had been having a disagreement,” this student said. “She was trying to attack her, and her mom called the cops, so she couldn’t kill her mother.”

The student said the experience was incredibly frightening and she feels it is inappropriate for students arrested for underage drink- ing to be sharing a cell with a “dangerous criminal.”

Even in light of these reportedly negative encounters, these stu- dents said they understand local law enforcement of cers must do their jobs and that breaking the law comes with consequences. They

do, however, wish that they and their fellow students could coexist with local law enforcement in a more congenial manner.

“I’m not saying that I want the police to forget about their job and duties,” Purnell said. “But there is de nitely a difference between the police of cer who jumps out of the car and immediately yells at you to put your hands behind your back and the police [of cer] who rst goes: ‘Hey. What are you doing? Are you okay?’ And that dialogue there, I think, is really important.”

While interactions between police and potential student lawbreak- ers may be inevitable, Roman said he wants to create an environment for such an improvement in discourse.

“Obviously, it is an undesirable situation probably for both [the student and of cer],” Roman said. “So we want to bring our best to the table and do everything we can to deescalate the situation. That may go from a range of things from just polite conversation to fol- lowing instructions.”

According to the chief, rst impressions and interactions are piv- otal. He noted that one of his primary objectives in his new role is to establish a forum for discussion with students and have the opportunity to meet them long before they risk run- ning into trouble with the law.

“My goal is to maybe get into some small environments or intimate settings, more of a town hall feel if you would,” he said, “with a small number of people and just allow people to ask questions or really introduce ideas of what the police de- partment can do better as far as creating positive and lasting relationships between students and the police department.”

The student who wished to remain anonymous said she hopes the community will take Roman’s suggestion a step further by actively working to improve Washington and Lee’s relations with local law enforcement on a regular basis.

Purnell agreed.

“If there has to be a ticket issued or an arrest made, I want it to be very civilized because we’re all people coexisting in the community,” he said. “I would love to build a relationship with the police. It’s very apparent that the W&L student body could do amazing community work with the police.”