On Sept. 8 at 5:50 p.m., Cornell University Police Officer Beverly Van Cleef set out on foot into Ithaca’s Collegetown. She was not responding to a call.
In full uniform, badge glinting in the sun, she was on a mission to build bridges – between the police and students, students and the Ithaca community – through the annual BEAR (Being Engaged and Responsible) Walk.
Run by the Division of Student and Campus Life, the BEAR Walk sends teams of Cornell police officers, faculty and staff, students, and Ithaca community members to interact with students living off-campus, providing guidance on how to be a good neighbor and tenant, and where to call when they need help.
“Most of what I do is not what people might expect from a police officer,” said Van Cleef, one of two officers who comprise the CUPD’s Crime Prevention Unit.
“We’re here to give our community members guidance and teach them where to get resources.”
The list of programs and services the crime prevention unit provides is long, with surprising breadth. It includes trainings in what to do in the case of an active shooter or violence in the workplace, how to stay safe on campus and how to protect against identity theft. Officers give orientations to the Rave Guardian mobile app and the Silent Witness program, provide safety assessments of living and work spaces, and lead sessions on drug and alcohol awareness. They also offer trainings in winter driving, cash handling, and bike safety, coordinate more than 100 car seat inspections a year, and provide key tags so that lost keys can always be returned.
Van Cleef and fellow Crime Prevention Officer Jodi Condzella train volunteers for Slope Day and Commencement, and can be found at every major orientation – for undergraduates, graduates, international students, resident advisers and more.
“They always show up to our events willing to help, willing to be open and talk to the students, and it gives everybody an opportunity to bring their walls down and to have conversations,” said Denise Thompson, off-campus living manager in the Division of Student and Campus Life and coordinator of the BEAR Walk. “Those interactions then carry into seeing police officers at events or on campus, or even in a time of crisis – students will be more comfortable having an officer there.”
This comfort is key not only for students but for Cornell staff who advise and care for them.
“Because of my experiences with CUPD, it’s so easy for me to tell students that the Cornell Police are our partners,” said Julie Paige, director of off-campus, cooperative and graduate living. “The police here have such a commitment to being there for the students.”
As part of her role, Paige serves as the director of the Hasbrouck community, a housing complex that’s home to more than 700 residents, including international graduate students and professional students and their families. She said the groundwork laid by Van Cleef and other officers makes a huge difference in the community. Van Cleef attends a large welcome event every August, as well as orientations for international students; around Halloween, she dresses as McGruff the Crime Dog and visits with the kids.
“It’s proactive relationship-building, and Bev makes it interactive and fun for the families,” Paige said. “By her presence, the residents are introduced to Cornell Police as people who are supportive, someone they can call upon.”
Van Cleef and Condzella also do more focused trainings to help groups on campus with specific needs. In the wake of violence in synagogues across the country and local anti-Semitic incidents, they held an active shooter training for members of Cornell Hillel, conducted a safety assessment of its spaces on campus, and are helping the group prepare a grant application to update security measures.
Van Cleef said the overarching goal of her work is to serve the community and to actively break down barriers between the community and the police. She loves to give tours of the station, ride-alongs in the vehicles, to interact with the community at events, and to make sure people have the resources they need.
On the BEAR Walk, Van Cleef coaxed students into conversation: Two students sunning themselves on their roof came down to their front porch; another set of students opened a window to make sure they hadn’t done something wrong – and were soon in dialogue. She engaged a landlord, an owner of 16 properties in Collegetown, on a street corner. She insists on wearing her uniform to these events, because she wants to actively break any barriers the uniform might create.
“I try to tell people that I am just like them. I wear a uniform so they know where to come for help,” she said. “When I say that, you can see it lightens the load. That’s the whole idea of our programming. We want our community to know we’re here for them when they need us and to give them the tools to keep themselves safe.”