Plugged in to Campus: CMUPD community officer connects with students through game nights

Ypsilanti freshman Matt Ryder gets a fist bump from officer Chapman after losing in his match of ‘09 NCAA basketball in Kulhavi Hall, Thursday, Jan. 21.

Policing became Joshua Chapman's future of choice after a baseball career did not pan out the way he had dreamed. 

While at the Baltimore Police Department, Chapman grew frustrated seeing fellow officers abuse their power, he said. Negative interactions with police officers in the past encouraged Chapman to change the field from within and emulate the officers he looked up to.

Following his “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem" mentality, Chapman went in search of an opportunity where he could bond with his community and have a positive impact.

Chapman started at the Central Michigan University Police Department in 2019. He became a community police officer in the fall of 2020, where his primary role is to break down barriers between students and police.

“(Most) police officers are out there to genuinely help,” he said. “We come in during the worst part of your day, the worst part of your lives. (The police department is) something that you should trust, you should run to and you should (be able to) ask for help.”

Based in Kulhavi Hall, Chapman recently began hosting weekly video game tournaments and participates in challenges as part of his student engagement efforts.

He said 10-12 students regularly attend the video game tournaments, where they compete against one another in NCAA football and basketball, Wii Sports, Among Us and Mario Kart, among other games. 

For Chapman, the tournaments are an opportunity to create a safe, respectful space with some friendly competition.

“(I’m) trying to show students that they’re safe here,” Chapman said. “We've got good people here that want to interact with you, and not just have it be an officer (versus) civilian relationship.”

For students, the tournaments provide a space where they can socialize and take breaks from their studies.

Sterling Heights senior Daysia Parham said she goes to the tournaments semi-regularly when she's not studying or working.

“I don't even always play the game," Parham said. "I think I played Wii Sports Tennis one time, and that's because Chapman was talking about me, (challenging me to a game). But other than that, I really don't play the games. I literally just hang out."

Saginaw sophomore Lashaundra Galloway just transferred to CMU this fall amid COVID-19 restrictions. She started attending the tournaments to meet new people, and eventually, to flex her Mario Kart skills as the undefeated champion of Kulhavi game nights.

"I didn't go at first because they were playing basketball, but then I told Officer Chapman, I was really good at Mario Kart, and he said had that game," Galloway said.

Unbeknownst to her competition, Galloway used to compete in international Mario Kart tournaments against professional gamers. Galloway said after defeating everyone at Mario Kart, she started attending the tournaments regularly.

Flint sophomore Tyson Berry was the most recent champion of the Jan. 21 game night, winning the NBA 2K tournament. He said he came into the game with high expectations of winning, in spite of choosing the "worst team in the NBA."

"Chapman told me that I better stop talking all that big talk," Berry said, "So, I took Sacramento. Their whole stack is overall D plus - shooting D plus, passing D plus. (Chapman) had OU, which I think is C- type of team, but it doesn't matter. I got here with my skills."

Although it’s been challenging navigating COVID-19, Chapman said he feels like he's been able to break down some barriers.

"(I've had students say to me), 'we've never talked to a cop before unless it was on bad terms, but once we started doing these video games and gave you a shot,'" he said. "(Students have said), that 'there's nothing different about you, and you treat us like people not as suspects or criminals.'" 

For students who might have reservations interacting with Chapman or other CMUPD officers, Parham recommends "taking a chance."

"I have no shadow of a doubt that (Chapman) would protect every person at this school with his life without hesitation, but nobody would know that if they didn't take that chance and step into his office," Parham said.

Chapman said it's difficult to gauge how effective his engagement efforts have been, but students keep coming to his office and game nights.

"They don't have to come to talk to me, come in and see how my family is doing, how my day is going," Chapman said. "They don't have to come and talk to me about their life and schooling or how hard it is to do virtual learning. They don't have to do that - but they do."