New MU police chief expands outreach, discusses MU Alerts

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COLUMBIA - MU police chief Doug Schwandt, who has been in the top job for less than three months, is ramping up MUPD's outreach efforts to include one-on-one meetings with community members and expanded social media use.

The department has launched a program called "Chat with the Chief," which allows anyone to sign up for a one-on-one meeting with Schwandt to discuss issues, ideas or concerns with him.

Schwandt, who took over as interim chief in March after longtime chief Jack Watring retired, said the initiative has been in the works for a while and isn't in response to recent events which saw the university face criticism over its use of the MU Alert system.

"I knew that I wanted to create a forum for our campus community to have a direct line of communication with me," Schwandt said.

Schwandt said the department has reevaluated the MU Alert system and plans to be "more proactive" in issuing alerts, but does not want the community to become desensitized.

"We don't want our campus to be desensitized to emergency alerts, and that's what some of the fear is from departments that go through this," Schwandt said. "In some ways it's a double-edged sword, but we're going to try to take the course of action where we are going to err on the side of ‘Let's get the safety message out.'"

Schwandt said community policing has become even more of a priority for law enforcement agencies across the country after controversy over law enforcement's relationship with the community in in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere.

"We have a good relationship with our community," Schwandt said. "But we don't take that for granted."

Schwandt also plans to look at increasing MUPD's use of social media. The chief recently opened his own Twitter account to provide a "personal face to the department."

"We're probably a little behind the curve when it comes to that," Schwandt said. "We're finding that most of our campus is getting information and messaging [from Twitter]."