UPD tries to boost officers’ visibility

by Koran Addo

With a decline in the officer-to-student ratio, University Police officials said they fear the department is becoming anonymous in the community.

To increase its profile, the department formed the Community Investigator division in the summer of 2001.

Now police officials say the program has grown into an important service that several University communities rely on.

“Our ultimate goal is to have the highest profile possible,” said University police Chief George Aylward. “If people know us, they are more likely to contact us.”

The division is a specialized police unit in which officers are assigned specific geographic areas to patrol, including residence halls, research facilities and the athletics departments.

The program is part of the department’s five-year plan that outlines how the department should progress.

The division makes police more visible to the public, creating a perception of safety, Aylward said.

Community Investigator division officers feel a sense of community ownership, he said. At the same time, the public has assurance that police are actively working to keep their area safe, Aylward said.

“We want to get the word out that we, as a police department, are here to be used as a resource to protect people,” University police Lt. Chuck Miner said.

Greg Hestness, assistant vice president for public safety, said the division is effective because it creates better communication between the department and the community.

In order to have a direct link with the community they serve, each of the divisions’ officers carry a cell phone.

Aylward said while the success of the program is difficult to measure, the department has received positive feedback from the community.

For example, last week there were four thefts in a single area of campus. Because of the division, community members were quickly alerted about the steps to take to keep their belongings safe and stay out of danger, he said. Because the case is still under investigation, Hestness could not elaborate.

In addition to investigative work, division officers also conduct safety training and teach crime prevention techniques to members of their area.

One technique is the use of ID badges worn by all employees of the Academic Health Center. Health center officials said the badges create a more personal work environment and help curtail suspicious activity.

Mary Koppel, Academic Health Center director of communications, said the badges help employees keep track of who is in the building.

“People quickly notice if someone is not wearing a badge, and they can ask them if they need assistance,” she said.

While the average University student might not be aware of the program, the Community Investigator division is “hugely significant” in keeping residence halls safe, said Wachen Anderson, Housing and Residential Life judicial affairs director.

“(The division) is our support system,” she said. “It creates a police presence which is exceedingly helpful to the community.”