The Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) recently posted images of a mock swearing-in ceremony on its Facebook page. Chief Kevin Maguire, right hand raised, is pictured facing a stuffed toy elephant in police uniform. “Officer Jumbo,” the post reads, “joins us from the field of 3 ring entertainment where his final position was dignitary protection. Please look for him on patrol and promoting safety across all our Tufts campuses.”
Another post, this time littered with emojis, advises students hosting parties to keep music turned down, not serve “the punch” to underage students and not overcrowd party venues. The post is accompanied by an image reading, in bright text, “You’re INVITED.”
These posts depart from the TUPD’s typical social media presence, which often serves to share information about on-campus construction, timely warnings of dangerous activity on campus and pictures of TUPD officers at events or law-enforcement conventions.
So what? One might think TUPD’s social media posts simply a harmless, albeit awkward attempt, to relate to the student body. Officer Jumbo is, after all, stuffed. The toy poses no physical threat to anyone on campus, even if thrown. We may be embarrassed on behalf of TUPD for its clumsy use of emojis, but this doesn’t appear to be outwardly malicious.
The danger in these types of posts, however, is not in their content, but in what they neglect to address. The danger lies in the potential they have to distract from real issues, their disingenuous portrayal of policing on campus and their failure to meaningfully respond to grievances raised by students. TUPD, it seems, has adopted a new approach to social media, one which infantilizes Tufts students, attempts to soften the image of campus policing and serves to distract from solutions which could make our campus a safer place.
In 2017, the Tufts Observer detailed TUPD’s history of racial profiling, questioned its use of unmarked vehicles and the purpose of such surveillance. Jonathan Innocent discussed the presence of enhanced security and surveillance at parties organized by POC groups on campus, recalling police “staring down and watching people dance from the second floor balcony” in Hotung Café during a “Black city-wide event.” Last year, Maguire visited Israel for counterterrorism training, sparking wide-spread controversy, calls for transparency and heated discussion within the student body.
These types of events illustrate that TUPD has a truly complicated relationship with many communities on this campus, a relationship which is not aided by childish and distracting Facebook posts. These problems are not something to make light of, but something for which to seek solutions. Rather than address concerns with transparency, responding to criticism and repairing wrongs, TUPD seems content to distract with gimmicky, pseudo-relatable content.
This is not what Tufts students want to see. Officer Jumbo is plush, but does not solve the very real problems with profiling and accountability on this campus. TUPD may believe emojis make them appear relatable, but joking about the hazards of drinking culture seems more like a dereliction of duty. TUPD owes the population it polices a meaningful review of its practices and an acknowledgement of criticism, not comic relief and indifference.