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Collaboration During COVID and Beyond – Local Law Enforcement Share Efforts to Ensure Safety

An aerial view of the town of Boone and the Appalachian State University campus. The Appalachian Police Department, Boone Police Department and Watauga County Sheriff’s Office are collaborating to help decrease the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Marie Freeman

By Emily Bausch

As the High Country community works to decrease the spread of COVID-19, collaboration between local organizations is taking the spotlight as an important and local part of the new normal.

The Appalachian State University and Boone Police departments, along with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO), are increasing collaboration and communication to work together to support safety measures.

The Appalachian Police Department (APD) is assisting both the Boone Police Department (BPD) and WCSO with monitoring, responding to and addressing off-campus gatherings that violate COVID-19 guidelines established by the state. Part of the enhanced communication channels between these agencies includes a formal jurisdictional agreement that is being drafted between the university and the town of Boone.

“The Appalachian Police Department is building on its strong partnership with the Boone Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies. While we are taking every violation seriously, I want to emphasize the majority of our students are respecting one another, abiding by the rules that are in place to protect our community,” said Appalachian Chancellor Sheri Everts.

“A large population of our students do not reside on campus, and it is appropriate for APD to assist when the need arises,” said Andy Stephenson, director of public safety and chief of police. “We recognize the impact the university has on the community and we want to be sure we are assisting in every way possible.

“We all have a role to play to make sure we stay safe as we work together to keep the campus we love open,” he continued. “Our local law enforcement organizations are united in their efforts to address community concerns. We will continue to work together to keep this community safe and well. The commitment of our students, faculty and staff is what is helping Appalachian stay open and operational.”

Cooperation and collaboration in practice

The cooperation of students and the collaborative Mountaineer spirit in the community is apparent. This past weekend, the Mountaineers hosted the first home football game at Kidd Brewer Stadium — and celebrated a win.

For safety purposes as suggested by the state’s Phase 2.5 guidelines, tailgating was prohibited; game attendance was limited to a few family members of junior and senior players; and group gatherings were held to 25 people inside and 50 people outdoors.

For this first game of the 2020 season, there was some initial concern that enthusiasm for the game might lead to some larger, unauthorized gatherings, but the community exhibited exemplary adherence to current COVID-19 restrictions, Stephenson said.

Students who violate North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order for gathering sizes could face student conduct charges from the university. One fraternity was suspended prior to the first week of classes for hosting large gatherings.

“Overall, our students have done a great job adapting to the new normal. Joint responses to mass gatherings off campus have been minimal,” Stephenson said.