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UMBC police department seeks feedback, names community resource sergeant

Sergeant Jamie Cheatem knows everyone at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Or, at least, it seems like he does. 

“The dream — the goal — has always been to have students on this campus stop seeing the uniform and see the man inside the uniform,” said Cheatem, who was recently promoted to community resource sergeant — a role designed to improve communication between the police department and the campus community.

A large feat, considering many students are afraid of racial profiling and overpolicing. At several of the Retriever Courage town halls last year, students took to the microphone to discuss their distrust of campus police and their own perceptions of police work at UMBC.

Instead of hiding, however, Cheatem plans to do what he does best: talk with the community. 

Around eight years ago, Cheatem began to get out of his patrol car and talk with students, faculty and staff around campus. As he made connections, he noticed that students felt more comfortable talking with him, so he parked his car by the AOK Library parking lot when he was not doing patrols. Soon enough, even more students started stopping by to talk with him — so many that when another police officer parked in his spot on his off day, students came up to the police cruiser expecting Cheatem to be there.

When the position of community resource sergeant was created, Cheatem sat for the sergeant’s exam and immediately applied. Once he got the job, he said, “all the ideas started flowing.”

He compared the UMBC police department to an island. “The goal is to pull the island inland,” Cheatem said. “I want that connection.”

It starts with Chip, the department’s new comfort dog. Police Chief Paul Dillon has wanted to get a comfort dog for about six months, and now UMBC is one of four universities in the country with such a program. Cheatem said that he believes Chip will both aid in difficult situations and help students feel more comfortable seeing police officers around campus.

Cheatem also has plans for “Donuts and Dialogue,” a recurring event where he will meet with different student organizations to hear their concerns and criticisms of the police department. Only with feedback, Cheatem said, can the department grow. This week, he meets with the Student Government Association, or SGA.

He also plans to continue attending yearly events like Take Back the Night — this year, with Chip — and have a dunk tank at Quadmania where students can dunk UMBC police officers. What he thinks will be the most impactful, however, is the opportunity to “ride along” in the police cruiser as he or another officer patrols. Then students will get to see what their jobs entail and gain a better understanding of how officers respond to calls for service. 

“All the officers are involved, but I’m willing to take whoever’s uncomfortable,” Cheatem said.

Community policing does not just encompass the events the police host, but also the events students invite the police to. Cheatem has attended math presentations, dance recitals and even the occasional wedding over his years at UMBC. For him, showing up is important. He has even used his days off to stop by UMBC to support students who invited him to their events. 

“They ask me, I come,” Cheatem said.

Dillon has stressed this idea of “showing up” and is asking his police officers to increase foot patrols to start getting officers acquainted with the community and vice versa.

“We’re excited that newly promoted Cheatem will lead our community outreach efforts, recognizing that community policing is a department-wide effort and not the responsibility of one person,” Dillon said. “We want to do well. We care.”

Cheatem has created an outreach program for Dillon too, called “Chit-Chat with Chip and the Chief,” which only further emphasizes his belief that community outreach is a group effort. 

“‘We’ is not just in this building,” he said. “‘We’ is everybody.”

Photo: Sergeant Jamie Cheatem and Chip, UMBC’s new comfort dog. Photo courtesy of UMBC Police Department via Sgt. Cheatem.