Police officers need to have a better understanding of how to interact with members of underrepresented communities in order to more thoroughly help those members join the broader community at UND, said a candidate for the university’s chief of police position.
Christopher Schuster, one of the finalist candidates for UND’s associate vice president of public safety and chief of police, said he would work toward helping officers understand the history of law enforcement, and how it is viewed by members of certain communities. That understanding, he said, can help a police department develop a more inclusive attitude; something needed to expand the idea that law enforcement serves the entire community.
“We need to be aware of how we can cater to those identities, because those identities that we're catering to is what allows us to all be here today,” Schuster said. “We are here because of the students.”
Schuster is the second candidate to hold a public forum at UND. He addressed attendees at a campus meeting on Wednesday, July 21, to outline his ideas about university policing, including how the department can work more closely with groups representing black, indigenous and other people of color, as well as the LGBTQ community. It's necessary, he said, to acknowledge some members of those groups may have had negative experiences with law enforcement, but a deeper commitment to diversity and inclusivity can help bridge that gap.
“I think it's very important to come alongside them and help them understand that we truly are there for them, and that's all about getting involved,” Schuster said.
And creating a more inclusive police department and campus can help solve officer retention problems, something he said is plaguing departments around the nation. Law enforcement officers have come under increased scrutiny, following the death of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis resident, by a police officer there in May 2020.
Schuster grew up in central Wisconsin and began his law enforcement career with the La Crosse Police Department, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. Prior to attending university, Schuster served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an embassy guard.
In 2013, he transitioned to university policing, with the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, where he is a command officer. He re-entered the military, and now serves as a senior non-commissioned officer with Wisconsin Air National Guard, out of Madison. In 2020, he earned a master’s degree in organizational change leadership, from the University of Wisconsin at Platteville.
Schuster’s wife is from Thief River Falls, and he said she is excited about the prospect of returning to an area near her hometown. The community in Grand Forks is similar to where he works in Wisconsin, he said, and would make a desirable location for him to advance his law enforcement career.
The next candidate forum will be held on Thursday at 3 p.m. in room seven of the Education building. The forums can be watched online on UND’s website.