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Community support officer bows out: ‘My face on a mug got me known’

He was a popular face in the Leiden student world and even developed his own merchandise, but all good things come to an end. After seven years, community support officer Dennis Perdok (49) is leaving this role. Last week he bid farewell to the police and to his job in Leiden’s city centre.

What are you most proud of in your seven years as a community support officer?

‘That’s easy: that I managed to expand the network among Leiden students and that we have been in such good contact all these years. Of course, I was just a neighbourhood policeman for Leiden’s city centre, with students as a special focus group. The daily contact with all those young people, and with municipal officials and other stakeholders, made my work very dynamic. Leiden city centre really has its own pace of life and that gave me a lot of energy to set up some great things, such as the student symposium on sexual harassment which was held recently for the seventh time.’

A lot of students have come to think of you as ‘their’ officer. How did you manage that?

‘One of my colleagues suggested I had a mug made with my face on it and the text: “This mug is your community support officer”. We handed the mugs out at one of the El Cid introduction weeks, and I carried on doing that every year. At first I wasn’t exactly keen on the idea of a mug with the face of an old guy on it, but I’m convinced that getting myself known helped me in my work. I also had my own Instagram page where I shared a lot of photos of my work, and that put me in direct contact with students, for example if they had any questions.’

Perdok at the recent student symposium on sexual harassment

Has there been a particular case over the past seven years that you’ll always remember?

‘Too many to mention. Mostly a lot of really nice things, but also some less pleasant ones. One occasion that really affected me was when I had to tell a student that a member of his family had passed away. I didn’t know the guy, but he opened the door and the first thing he said was: “You’re Dennis from the mug.” I had to give him some very bad news, but when I spoke to him again a couple of weeks later, he told me that recognising my face from the mug made him feel safer somehow.’

What are you going to miss most about your work with students?

‘The daily contact. I’ve always been very professional in how I do my job in the police, but I try to give it a warm touch − that’s how I’d describe it. Over the seven years, the contact has become a lot more personal. I’m about twice the age of the average student, so, I’m not sure, but maybe I’m a kind of father figure. Somehow, the chemistry was right. On my last day in the city I was invited to visit CoDe [Ed: the Criminology study association]. They gave me a present and a lovely card. That felt very special.’

Have you got any tips for your successor?

‘The most important thing is to build a good network and a good relationship with the students. Leiden really is way ahead in the contact between students and police. In other student cities, the students don’t even know who their community support officer is. Here in Leiden we’ve got a good system in place. Whether it’s the El Cid, a symposium on sexual harassment or a project about safety, the police, the municipality and students are in it together, and that’s worth its weight in gold.’

Text: Tim Senden

Photos: Marc de Haan

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