If you see an Oxford Police Department (OPD) car driving down the street, look twice. What you may believe to be an officer on duty could just be your classmate in the driver’s seat.
The Citizens Observer Patrol (COP) program invites volunteers to act as the “eyes and ears” for OPD officers on duty. The program, which started in the summer of 2020, attracts many Miami University students seeking internship credit.
OPD Lieutenant Lara Fening coordinates the program and said volunteers have the opportunity to drive around and patrol using a decommissioned OPD cruiser.
Fening said the cars are painted in a similar fashion to the official OPD police cruisers but do indicate that the driver is a part of the COP Program.
“I like having that marked cruiser out there to give that presence to the public that the police personnel are out there,” Fening said.
Current members of the program are given tasks like regular patrolling of the city, collecting speed data, conducting a parking study and other non-patrol activities. If a COP member sees any suspicious activity, they are supposed to radio to the station to summon officers.
Students in the program do not have the ability to arrest or confront individuals deemed participating in suspicious activity.
Emma Melichar, a senior psychology and sociology major, has a concentration in criminology and is currently fulfilling 120 hours of internship experience for credit through the COP Program.
Melichar said she was apprehensive when starting the internship, but she picked up the routine easily after she began.
"I was more nervous that I would somehow mess something up,” Melichar said. “I think it's just different, and it gives me the opportunity to get out of the house and go around Oxford.”
Melichar said nothing crazy has happened while she was on her shift in the car.
“[I] just drive around, and if I come on anything suspicious or anything that [I’m] concerned about, [I] just tell someone,” Melicher said. “I’m just kind of driving around, so it’s kind of relaxing.”
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Fening said the challenging part of the job was learning what suspicious behavior was or looked like.
“It takes a lot of time to learn, even when you’re a police officer, what is suspicious and when is the right time to do something,” Fening said. “That’s part of the learning curve, and mostly what it is is common sense.”
Kristen Budd, an associate professor of sociology and criminology, wrote in a statement to The Miami Student that the internships have largely been driven by student interest.
Melicher noted that she plans to attend law school and pursued the internship because she wanted to know more about “the other side of law.”
Budd wrote in her statement that the internship allows criminology majors to see law enforcement “in action” outside of the classroom.
“It’s a good, cool experience,” Melicher said. “It’s definitely different than any other experience I’ve had.”