BOONE, N.C. — Whether in uniform, a suit and tie or surfacing drenched from an icy dunking in a charity water tank, Appalachian State University’s Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety Andy Stephenson commands respect while remaining approachable. His easygoing, friendly demeanor belies a fiercely strategic mindset. He has high expectations for Appalachian’s police team.
His goal: Become the model for campus policing in the United States. “What better job than to protect people?” he asked. “Still, I stay awake nights thinking, ‘How can we be better? How can we be original? How do we reach out to underrepresented groups? Is it possible to transcend the obstacles of low pay and a transitory police force?’”
He acknowledges his profession can be a stressful, negative one. “Police have some of the highest numbers for domestic violence, suicide, divorce, (and) drug and alcohol abuse. Police reform is critical,” he said.
The chief sees the Appalachian Police Officer Development Program (APDP) and the newly created Appalachian State University Police Academy as the tipping point for reform and the realization of his goals for the department.
“As it is, traditional policing has maintained a reactive focus on the enforcement of laws,” he said. “These are usually negative encounters for citizens and police officers.” Stephenson’s goal is to flip that model and be proactive.
Through the academy, he said he wants to “add to a force of outgoing people who are smart and innovative and think on their own. Policing needs leaders and thinkers.”
It’s important, Stephenson said, to relate to people based on the vibe they put out. Most encounters with an officer in enforcement situations are stressful on both sides, Stephenson said. “You have to relate to the person. If we are connecting, it makes the officer and the citizen feel safer.”
‘We will change minds, build trust’
Stephenson believes the APDP will be transformational — both for the incoming academy cadets and for his seasoned force. He trained at Indiana University’s (IU) Cadet Officer Program — the first of its kind in the U.S. — and graduated first in his class from the IU Police Academy.
The chief plans to build on his personal cadet training experience. He said the Appalachian Police Academy, a component of the APDP, will give agencies the opportunity to recruit smart, thinking individuals who will promote the culture of critical thinking, effective communication and responsible citizenship.
For now, he is stressing good communication. He believes in transparency and sharing information with people who can facilitate change. He wants to broaden relationships with other service personnel in the county, and he has been holding “Cop Connect” sessions at Appalachian’s Roess Dining Hall with students — or anyone who wants to talk — during lunch hours.
“We aren’t sitting behind a desk waiting for someone to come to us,” he said. “We are actively engaging with as many people as we can.”
In the works are new uniforms and badges, and a wrap for the force’s automobiles. “I want us to be different. I want our people to stand out and look good. We will change minds and build trust. We will be a model for the whole UNC System,” he said.
About the App State Police Department
Appalachian State University’s official policing agency — the App State Police Department — supports the university’s academic mission by working in partnership with the campus community to prevent crime, solve problems and improve the quality of life on campus. The department’s philosophy is one of proactive community engagement, collaboration and customer service, holding the safety and health of App State’s community members as its top priorities. State-certified police officers, security officers and civilian employees compose the department, and this team of professionals helps to create and maintain an inclusive sense of belonging for all members of the App State Community — students, faculty, staff and visitors. Additionally, through its efforts, the department aims to be a leader in innovative public safety ideas and strategies. Learn more at https://police.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.
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