I’ve seen them parked on roundabouts or at the Gateway Garage. I’ve had the pleasure of calling the UCCS Police line in a few uncomfortable situations, but I haven’t gotten to know any UCCS Police officers. After doing a ride-along with Sergeant Patrick Warren this week, I’ve come to understand the UCCS Police’s approach of community-oriented policing and campus-driven protection.
With 12 patrol officers, two corporals, two sergeants, a lieutenant, deputy chief and chief, the UCCS Police Department is a small one. The evening I accompanied Sgt. Warren, he was alone on the night patrol shift. He showed me around the department, located on the second floor of the Gateway Garage. After a tour of the evidence room, patrol center, gear closet, and even a small wellness room, I met police communication manager Shantell Zimmer.
The dispatch for UCCS Police has a large job for their staff of seven people, emergency and non-emergency. After-hours concerns are directed to their office, as well as any sort of alarm alerts on campus, from campus direct lines (the red phones outside of many buildings on campus), Safe2Tell, UCCS Safe, Rave Guardian and all 911 calls from campus phones. “We’re a familiar voice, but not really a familiar face,” Zimmer said.
UCCS police car parked in Gateway Garage. Photo by Lillian Davis.
As Sgt. Warren and I headed to the much-anticipated ride-along portion of the evening, I got a look at the cars the police have at their disposal. He described the impact that visual presence had on past bike theft problems, as well as the two schools of thought on preventing recent “vehicle trespassing” incidents.
“There’re two sides. We’ve used unmarked cars in the garages to monitor the situation, [and] a visual presence deters theft, but it also keeps us from being able to see what’s going on,” Warren said.
He also emphasized that situational awareness is key for student protection and preventing theft, especially regarding the cases of vehicle trespassing.
“Don’t leave valuables out in your car, and make sure they’re locked, even on campus,” Warren said.
Our chariot for the night was car 05, the back of which was filled with various items for assisting students with common problems: traffic cones, jumper cables, assorted forms and a ballistic barricade for more severe situations. Sergeant vehicles are even equipped with two shotguns in case they are needed in the line of duty.
As we got on the road, Sgt. Warren discussed the working relationship between UCCS Police and the Colorado Springs Police Department. UCCS Police acts as a backup option for the city.
“My patrol efforts are going to be campus driven, even though there is an agreement with Colorado Springs Police Department that we can be proactive,” he said. “With me being alone tonight, we’re going to be cruising.”
Warren explained as we went that the biggest difference officers on campus experience is their ability to have a more community-oriented approach in their patrolling. Education is the central idea behind UCCS Police efforts.
“To pull somebody over and educate them on the laws, risks and warnings and not give them a ticket — in my opinion — goes much further. It’s the same with students going through a difficult situation,” Warren said. “If we can help them, educate them, guide them, without giving them a ticket and having them go to court, it has so much more of an impact.” Warren said.
During our ride-along I saw these commitments in action after watching a student drive the wrong way in a parking lot. To my surprise, campus officers pull people over after they’ve left the campus. After catching up to the student, rather than receiving a citation, they were given a warning and Sgt. Warren’s business card.
Following this interaction, we headed over to University Hall to lock up the building. Sgt. Warren discussed how officers at UCCS feel their relationship with students is crucial to them.
“Really, the root of it comes from getting out of the patrol vehicle, knowing your community and supporting it,” Warren said.
Following the lockup at UHall, we left to investigate a report of a man stopped in the road on Clyde Way. The driver had run out of gas and was unfortunately left in an inconvenient position. After determining that the driver was unable to get ahold of somebody to supply gasoline, Sgt. Warren decided it would be best if we went to fill a gas can for them.
While in the end, getting gas wasn’t necessary and the situation resolved, this created an example of the differences between a community-oriented approach versus a more typical style of policing.
“We can really slow things down …You’re not just getting an officer, you’re getting Patrick, who’s going to come and help you and follow up with you later if we need to,” Warren said.
When returning to the police department at the end of the ride-along, I wanted to hear what Sgt. Warren had to say about the implementation of the police council, announced earlier this week. His response echoed his opinions about the necessity of maintaining connection between the campus community and the police who serve it.
“I think it’s a better way for us to be more transparent and to open those conversations. We’ve had a lot of difficult times with police reform, with members of the public trying to understand that and members of law enforcement trying to understand that,” Warren said. “If we can move forward into having these somewhat difficult conversations and figure out how we can move forward as a university and as a department into how we can better serve our campus community, I’m all for it.”
Police reform had been on my mind before this ride-along. I wanted to hear about the efforts UCCS Police made at understanding the struggle that students of color and minority groups have when encountering police.
According to Warren, change is necessary for progress. Warren mentioned that he believes their mission should include, “Being a presence for students who might have difficulties with law enforcement.”
Throughout the evening, Sgt. Warren mentioned what a pleasure it is for officers to be able to see students graduate each year, knowing that they were able to serve them during their time at UCCS and contribute to their success. Prior to leaving, he noted that he will look forward to seeing me graduate this May and putting a face to my name. Having a window into the routine of one UCCS officer allowed me the opportunity to put a face to his name as well.
The view from police car 05 on the side of Clyde Way. Photo by Olivia Nordyke.