University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Police Department partnership seeks to educate social students

Ann Arbor canvassing teams focus on cooperation, education

A deserted State Street along University of Michigan's Athletic Campus on March 24, 2020. (Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – University of Michigan students congregating in large groups or not wearing masks can expect to receive reminders about public health and safety.

The University of Michigan Student Life has launched its Michigan Ambassadors program, a student-centered initiative set on promoting healthy practices and guidelines about new policies and ordinances.

The canvassing ambassador teams act as a visible presence and consist of U-M students, student leaders, professional staff, community members and non-sworn community engagement officers from U-M’s Division of Public Safety and Security or the Ann Arbor Police Department.

University of Michigan Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones said in light of recent events and community feedback, the program was tailored to minimalize police presence for first-time warnings.

Identified by blue shirts and branded masks, ambassador teams will approach groups and individuals to remind them of the U-M’s face covering policy, social distancing and size limitations for groups.

Jones said ambassadors undergo a series of training modules related to COVID-19 in order to prepare for their canvassing shifts. She added that training includes modules on conflict resolution and de-escalation, bystander intervention, a program overview and a public health module required by all U-M students and employees. Two additional modules focused on motivational interviewing and anti-bias education will be added as the training curriculum evolves.

Through the public health module, all students are able to opt-into giving the school contact information and addresses. Jones said that the volunteered information is cross-checked with complaints so that the school can reach out to individual students even before the Michigan Ambassadors are needed.

While ambassadors do remind students about masks, they also remind them about gathering sizes.

On Aug. 24, the City of Ann Arbor issued an emergency order limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people, and outdoor gatherings to 25. It supports an Aug. 20 Washtenaw County Health Department order limiting gatherings as well as statewide orders.

“We are actually making a template that of a guestlist to hand out to people who might be having those smaller gatherings, just as a way to remind them to use it,” said Jones, adding that the template was a suggestion from contact tracing public health personnel. Template instructions will tell students to keep the list for 21 days.

“We are really trying to evolve this [the program] and respond to what the needs seem to be,” she said.

Currently, Ambassador teams canvass every day from noon to midnight, which will continue through Sept. 4. Then, canvassing will only occur from noon to midnight on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

The U-M also created a reporting line -- 734-647-3000 -- where concerned students and community members can call with public health and COVID-19 concerns.

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If ambassador teams feel a situation puts their personal safety at risk, or if a gathering is too large, Ann Arbor Police Department will be asked to assist. The cooperative program was based on previous event-specific partnerships between the U-M and AAPD but has been changed for the pandemic.

“This year’s model is quite different. Based on the pandemic that we’re experiencing, there’s concern that the congregation of large groups, that we’ve typically seen [in the past], will be a source for spreading the virus,” said Lt. Mike Scherba of AAPD.

Scherba said that the focus is on educating students and community members gathering in large groups. The traditional “party patrol” model, which focused on zero-tolerance and heavy enforcement to curb underage drinking and noise complaints, has been switched to an education/prevention model through its partnership with the U-M.

“There’s a very big educational component here about really talking to the students and letting them know about the new ordinance, just reminding them to use social distancing, to use masks appropriately, to abide by the new county ordinance and to make everybody safer,” Scherba said, prior to the issuance of the Ann Arbor specific order.

In his experience, students have been willing to cooperate once reminded of local ordinances.

Jones said that she has heard similar things and that parents and community members have approached canvassing teams thanking them for the reminders. She said that with the new Ann Arbor ordinance, there is less confusion about where people should be wearing masks.

She added that the Ambassador program is also working with local landlords in order to deal with issues that may happen outside of U-M properties.

But there are still consequences for students that don’t heed the reminders. Jones said that those consequences may come from the school, such as a warning letter from her, or from AAPD depending on the situation.

Learn more about the Michigan Ambassador program here.


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About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.