Behind the Badge: SUNY Broome student’s project aims to change perceptions about law enforcement

SUNY Broome student Marquies OrrFor his class project in Police Community Relations, Marquies Orr wanted to do something more than a report.

Orr, who graduated in May with a Criminal Justice degree, wanted to change minds – specifically the minds of people who regard police officers with suspicion and fear. Working with his instructor, Sgt. Sammy Davis of the Broome County Sheriff’s Office, he helped organize a summertime event that intended to do just that.

Orr was inspired by the nationwide Coffee with a Cop initiative, which aims to break down divisions between law enforcement and the communities they serve. The problem with many such community events, however, is that they often target a demographic already familiar and comfortable with the local police department, Orr explained.

But the population who could benefit the most from a better relationship with law enforcement doesn’t tend to attend such events. Many of them were told from the time they were children to distrust police; some may have been in trouble themselves. Breaking the vicious cycle of distrust and fear would require a different approach, Orr reasoned: No uniforms, no weapons – just a conversation with the fellow human beings behind the badge.

“We wanted them to come as a member of the community,” Orr explained. “I was targeting those who had issues with police officers. You can create a relationship with the community that way.”

That was the theme of the July 22 event, Meet the Person Behind the Badge, which featured a meet-and-greet session, open discussion and opportunities to partake in the same physical and reality-based training that police officers do. Orr, Sgt. Davis and Jessica Nejeschleba, a Binghamton University intern at the sheriff’s office, worked to make the program a reality. Officers from the Broome County Sheriff’s Office, the Binghamton, Vestal, Endicott and Cortland police departments, New York State Police at BU and Broome County Security attended the event at the Broome County Sheriff’s Office.

Orr handed out flyers, trying to hit a population most in need of the chance to interact. His locations: The bus station in downtown Binghamton, the Department of Social Services and Susquehanna Street.

The event didn’t draw the number of participants that Orr had hoped, likely due to its location in the Sheriff’s Office. Such an event needs to be held in a safe zone for the security of participants, said Orr, adding that they’re trying to determine another state building where a future event could be held.

Numbers aside, the event was a success in other ways. It provided the seed for future events that could potentially break down the divide between police and civilians, and gave Orr the chance to work with law enforcement.

The program – which was Orr’s idea – was “fantastic,” said Sgt. Davis.

“During the community policing class, I’m trying to get the younger generation involved and be more appreciative of what law enforcement does,” he explained. “For me, having actually made contact with a student who was on the fence about law enforcement, it was a win.”

Orr is back at SUNY Broome, this time to pursue a degree in the Theater program. The Binghamton native hopes to become a decorated actor someday – “I’m a character,” he quipped with a broad smile – or, if that falls through, a defense attorney. Both a criminal justice and theater background might help with the latter aspiration, he said.