Former Marshall student hopes to bust down barriers between police, community

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Former Marshall University student Brandon Oiler is determined to bust down barriers between the Hurricane community and his police department. 

“My biggest goal is to change the public’s ideology and perception of law enforcement in my community,” Oiler said.  

Patrolman Oiler is a rookie police officer in Hurricane, West Virginia.

Oiler volunteers to work community events such as providing security at high school football games, visiting elementary schools, playing with children at parks and directing traffic outside of schools in the area. His intention when interacting with local youth is to “expose them to a first-hand interaction before they develop a preconceived idea of cops.” He has also shared photos and videos of himself challenging kids at playgrounds to races and other games via social media in order to elicit a connection. 

To some parents of local children, Oiler’s impact and enthusiasm is what sets him apart from negativity surrounding police in recent years.

“I think it is awesome that this police officer would stop what he’s doing on a busy day to come and play with the kids,” Barbara Wurster, a local parent, said.  According to Wurster, Officer Oiler’s actions have had an impact on the community’s children by giving them a first impression with first responders.

“You have so many people out here saying the police are not their friends, but this is teaching them they’re friendly so that if they get lost, they’ll go to a cop and be able to find their way home,” Wurster said. 

Oiler wears a bracelet on his arm in support of his colleague, Sgt. John Payne. According to Oiler, Payne was the school resource officer in the Hurricane school district at one time where he became well-liked by students.  

“They [the students] pestered the mayor for bracelets that say ‘I love Payne’ because they liked him so much,” Oiler said. “So, the mayor had the city pay for them and had them made.” 

He said he hopes to one day become the school resource officer once he gains more experience. Oiler also said he hopes to continue to build and maintain a connection between police and students the way Payne did before retiring from the position. 

Another means of connection Oiler uses to understand his community’s citizens is empathy. 

“I’ll ask them their story. It matters,” he said. 

Oiler said he also uses religion as a way to reinforce his intention to empathize with people he has had to apprehend. 

“What I’ll do is ask them about their story, ask why they do what they do and always stress that I am not here to dehumanize or humiliate you,” he said.  “Right before we get to the jail, I’ll ask if they believe in God. Some of them will say yes, some of them will say no, but most of the time they are accepting when I ask, ‘do you care if I pray for you?’”

Praying for the folks he encounters is an intimate experience, he said.

“They’re sometimes still in handcuffs, which is unfortunate,” Oiler said, “but I’ll put my hand on their back, bow my head with them and pray that God break their addiction and use themselves in a good manner, to not destroy themselves or hurt someone else. Just because you mess up doesn’t mean you’re not loved.”

Oiler said he sees himself as a regular citizen underneath the responsibility of being a police officer.  He described himself as being on an “equal playing field” because “we’re all human.”

“Just because I’m on this side of the badge doesn’t mean I don’t have compassion for you,” Oiler said.  

Oiler said in order to maintain passion for the job, he had to see the bigger picture. 

“It’s about helping my community and that is the payoff,” he said. 

He does not introduce himself with his job title and last name to citizens in his community.  In another attempt to connect with those he has sworn to protect, Oiler introduces himself with his first name.  By using his first name, Oiler said he gives the impression of reassurance and respect. 

“I know I technically probably shouldn’t because of whatever reason, but it helps them know I don’t see myself as better than them,” he said. 

By connecting with the public, Oiler said he hopes to break down the barrier that he feels hinders a positive relationship between police and the community.

“I’m just trying to gain common ground with people,” Oiler said. 

Meg Keller can be contacted at [email protected]

Meg Keller
Patrolman Oiler interacts with children Wednesday, Sept. 11 at Hurricane City Park.

Meg Keller
Oiler smiles for photo Wednesday, Sept. 11 inside his patrol car.

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