Policing a ‘Prized Possession’
What happens when a group of highly trained and experienced law enforcement officers decide they are ready for a change of pace? In the University of Louisville’s case, nearly 30,000 students, faculty and staff benefit tremendously.
University of Louisville Police Department
In 1991, Chief Wayne Hall, like numerous members of the University of Louisville Police Department, came to the agency after a 21-year career with Louisville Police Department.
“Many of our officers are retired from other places, and the average time served is 25 years, so they have experience with multiple things and can deal with anything that takes place on campus,” said UofL Lt. Col. Kenny Brown.
Though this band of highly qualified and experienced officers can handle just about anything thrown at them, their service to the university is more about building relationships than wresting criminals.
“It’s a truer community policing here,” Brown said. “We’re the only 24-hour, 365-day a week unit on campus and responsibilities fall on us that wouldn’t necessarily fall on a larger police department. I tell [our officers] you are a police officer, but also be a parent. Some people do stupid things, and sometimes you don’t want to give them a criminal history on something stupid.”
Chief Hall agrees.
“What more prized possession do you have than children?” he asked. “Parents trust us with their prized possession and we should be honored that they trust the university and know they will be taken care of. So we don’t focus on tickets and arrests, but instead on helping students get through their four or five years here, and leave with an education and with the best experience we can help them have.
“Even though we are law enforcement, we are tied into that educational side too,” he continued. “We keep them safe, take care of them and treat them like our own.”
To that end, the UofL Police Department conducts various trainings and events focused on student engagement, understanding and safety, beginning from the moment they step foot on campus as first-year students. Maj. Aaron Graham facilitates orientation for new students, faculty, staff and parents. At a university this large, Graham says orientation training is a series of months, not a single week, beginning in May and ending in mid-July. Orientation is used as a way for the police department to introduce itself to students and parents, explaining its role and the services provided on campus.
“A key element is talking to parents and allaying their fears of sending off their children to this university,” Graham said.
Once the student population is settled in and their back-to-school routine kicks off, Graham continues his interaction with students through safety presentations and open forums discussing their rights as students and adults.
“We let them know that any time they need to talk or know about some part of the legal system or the police department, or even about what’s going on in the world, we are at their beck and call,” Graham said.
Many officers also serve as mentors to student groups through the multicultural center, religious groups and the LGBT community on campus. This mentorship precipitates further interaction and relationship building between students and law enforcement, helping students see university officers as not just officers, but people there to support them throughout the school, Graham said.
The agency also hosts several events intended to build bridges between the campus population and police department. They host an annual cookout early in the fall semester in the courtyard near the department. They also put on Cops, Cards and Coffee events. Over coffee, fruit and donuts, students are encouraged to talk with officers about any concerns they have on campus, Chief Hall said.
Challenges of an Open Campus
Though building relationships and helping students succeed is a significant part of the UofL police department’s goals, their biggest task is keeping the campus and its student body safe. Being a city within itself of 30,000 people stuck in the middle of an urban area, outside issues and crime often penetrate the campus environment.
“Our biggest concern is what’s coming into campus — we have to be diligent to make sure people from outside don’t victimize our community,” Graham said. “The university is tied to the city and encourages general outsiders to use campus services. So we have to discern who is and who is not a part of our community.
“Thieves know what will be here — computers, laptops, iPhones, expensive bicycles,” Brown added. “It’s hard to tell who is who because the face of the university is no longer that traditional 18-year-old student with a backpack. We have everything from juveniles here taking classes to senior citizens. That kid with the backpack may or may not be a student and some old guy may or may not be a student.”
About two years ago, as a way of combatting a rise in crime in the northwest end of campus, close to what is known as Cardinal Town, the department created a resource officer position. The resource officer is permanently assigned to the area that includes residence halls, affiliate apartment complexes, businesses and restaurants.
“Being an open campus, we get our share of [difficult people,]” said Officer Dion Dodson who serves as the campus resource officer. “A lot of homeless individuals, who most would refer to as [mentally ill], enter our campus. They don’t mean any harm, but often these young students don’t know how to take them.
“They are easy marks for money too, because students will feel sorry for them,” Dodson continued.
Dodson has served the UofL Police Department for three years, after retiring from LMPD. Before taking on the newly-created resource officer position, Dodson served as a K-9 officer for the agency. UofL only brings Labradors onto its K-9 team because they are more friendly and less aggressive, which is important in a campus setting, Dodson said. The Labradors act strictly as drug dogs and are not trained in search or attack work, he added.
Technology and Best Practices
Educating students on best safety practices, paired with technology to boost communication and notification, and continuous improvement in keeping areas like the L-Trail well lit, are just some of the other endeavors the agency undertakes to improve campus safety.
The department has a system to put out real-time alerts when crime takes place or if there are areas of campus people need to avoid, or whatever is necessary depending on the incident, Hall said. They also offer an app called Rape Guardian that students, faculty and staff can download onto their smartphones. Within the app, an individual can set a timer when he or she leaves a location for how long it should take to get to his or her car or residence hall. If the alarm goes off, it immediately notifies the department’s 911 communication center and an officer is dispatched to the individual’s location.
“We can do emails, texts, push notifications on phones, sirens around campus — we have several ways to get information out depending on the situation,” Hall said.
“Our systems help us connect with students and keep them informed the best we can,” Graham added. “In this digital age, email isn’t always the most effective, so we use every medium available to ensure we’re reaching everyone.”
In addition to using technology, officers also are available to provide escorts for students after evening classes or after leaving late-night shifts at UPS. Escorts will go up to four blocks off campus, which is significant because many UofL students are not simply living in campus residence halls. As the campus has continued to expand in recent decades, new affiliate housing units provide residence to thousands of students. Expanding to seven this semester, these affiliate housing complexes are on the edges of the campus and cater to the needs and expectations of college students, but they also are home to non-student residents as well. These
affiliate housing communities have expanded the responsibilities of campus police.
However, this expansion also serves to foster an even closer working relationship between UofL police and Louisville Metro police. Any crimes or issues that arise in these affiliate areas surrounding campus, up to six blocks away, are handled by UofL officers, even if it ends up not relating to or affecting UofL students.
“Though it’s not officially our jurisdiction, we have countywide jurisdiction, and we do that to help Louisville Metro,” Hall said. “LMPD receives a lot more calls for service, and we have the time to make those calls, and it makes our students and staff feel safer. We have officers on bikes and ATVs, and we ride through those areas to be seen.”
In addition to traditional law enforcement rules and regulations, UofL police are required to follow all Department of Education guidelines. They are required to submit an annual crime report containing data on nine different crimes. In addition, they must comply with Title IX and keep accurate records about sexual assault and domestic violence incidents on campus. These mandatory reports keep them in compliance with the Michael Minger Act, which is a state version of the Clery law that requires public colleges and universities to report campus crimes to their employees, students and the public in a timely manner.
All this must be done while constantly adjusting to an ever-changing population, Graham said.
“You have to think of this as a small city, and we have to be very adaptable,” Graham said. “Every four years we have a complete population change. Each year we have 13,000 people that weren’t here the year before. There are very few cities that have that kind of population shift, and we have to be ready to deal with the changes that come with that shift.”
“In a university setting you see changes quickly in social attitudes, and we are always evolving how we do policing in general,” Hall agreed.
With a mission to maintain public peace and safety, safeguard the assets of the institution and its faculty, staff, students and visitors and assist in providing an environment conducive to teaching, research and public service, the University of Louisville Police Department has a unique law enforcement role in the community they police. But their emphasis on building relationships, creating community and fostering trust and understanding among their residents sets them up as a premier law enforcement agency providing a consistent and highly-professional service to the people in and around them day to day and year to year.