One night on the University beat

by Jessica Steeno

I sat in the back of a University Police squad car for most of Friday night.
It took more than five tries for me to learn that the car doors don’t open from the inside and my shoes still bear scuff marks from the steel plate separating the front and back seats.
After covering the cops beat since June, I decided to learn firsthand what campus police officers do during a typical shift.
It ain’t all coffee and doughnuts.
University Police Officer Dave St. Cyr guided me through the world of campus crime. He has served on the University Police force for more than two years.
At the start of his shift, St. Cyr dug behind his squad car’s vinyl seat cushions.
“I’m looking for contraband,” he said. “Maybe drugs, a knife, razor blades, anything a criminal could have left behind.”
Although it’s not required of University Police, St. Cyr wore a bulletproof vest. He estimated that 90 percent of the officers in his department wear them.
“Seventy-five percent of officers killed in the field are killed during traffic stops,” he said. “If I forget to wear mine, I always feel a bit vulnerable during traffic stops.”
Cyr loaded his briefcase and laser gun, which is used to monitor traffic speeds, into the back seat. The photographer, whose longer legs won her the honor of riding shotgun, hopped into the spacious front seat.
I squished myself and my notebook into the back.
St. Cyr’s car is number 1811, and its driver is responsible for answering calls south of Washington Avenue and on the West Bank.
Our first assignment was a routine patrol of the Mississippi banks. As we drove down the bumpy dirt road, we got our first call to action. St. Cyr hit the siren, which luckily covered my rookie squeals of excitement as the tires kicked up dust.
We hit the pavement going 40 mph, swerving in and out of cars along Fourth Street until we reached Williams Arena.
St. Cyr was called because another officer needed assistance at Williams Arena. Earlier in the day, a man had threatened to return to the building with a gun. Apparently, he was back and playing basketball on the Gopher’s indoor basketball court, which is not open to the public.
“We don’t know if he has (a gun), and we can only assume that he does,” St. Cyr said.
After a brief search of the arena on foot, St. Cyr spotted the suspect leaving the building. He was followed by another man, University Police Officer Bob Hanley. Together, the officers cornered the man on Oak Street.
After a quick frisk, the officers obtained the man’s identification. While the officers waited to see if there were warrants out for the man’s arrest, the suspect began to get restless.
Hanley stood with one foot propped on a concrete block and repeatedly asked the suspect why he was in the arena.
The suspect didn’t answer the questions directly, but kept repeating, “I’m being harassed.”
When the suspect attempted to cross the street during heavy traffic, officers handcuffed him. Then, two plain-clothes officers, who were waiting nearby, rushed to the scene.
The officers were dressed in jeans and flannel shirts, but instead of books they sported guns under their clothes.
St. Cyr explained later that the plain-clothes officers were in the area for a different reason, but since they were nearby they waited to see if the uniformed officers would need their help. He said the officers handcuffed the man for his own safety because he tried to walk into traffic.
After about 10 minutes, a dispatcher called Hanley and said there were no local warrants out for the suspect’s arrest. Hanley then asked employees at Williams Arena if they wanted to press charges. When the employees said no, St. Cyr and Hanley removed the handcuffs from the man and let him go.
There is no such thing as a typical night for a University Police officer, St. Cyr said.
“One thing about this job is that every day it’s a little different,” he said. “One day you’re giving someone directions and the next day you’re wondering whether you’re going to have to help another officer out of a fight.”
Twice during the night people came up to St. Cyr’s car asking for directions. St. Cyr said this happens all the time and carries a file folder full of maps to give to lost people.
Then came a pit stop.
St. Cyr gave us a tour of one of the West Bank bathrooms, located in the lower level of Willey Hall. There have been problems with illicit sexual conduct in this restroom, St. Cyr said. He said sometimes men will wait in this campus bathroom looking for anonymous sex.
“The smell in here is not from bad water,” he said. “The smell is from what people do in here.”
Back on the East Bank, as we drove down Fifth Street, a child looked at me sitting in the back of the squad car and yelled “Ha! Ha!” I just smiled.
After a few routine traffic stops and a false alarm, St. Cyr drove us to the Big 10 restaurant on Washington Avenue.
He said the restaurant is a popular spot for some of the younger University Police officers to grab some dinner or maybe a beer after a shift.
“After this job you need an hour or so to unwind,” he said.
St. Cyr walked into the restaurant and was greeted as “Dave” by several employees. He ordered his usual, a chicken Caesar salad.
Before he ate, he pulled out his cellular phone and laid it on the table.
Earlier in the evening he had said, “I’m gonna have a baby in about four weeks. I’m not afraid of babies.”
He carries the phone with him because his wife is eight months pregnant with their first child, and he wants to know the minute she goes into labor.
Back on the street, St. Cyr stopped four young adults walking down Fifth Street for carrying open beer bottles. St. Cyr asked them how full their bottles were. Tentatively, one of the men in the group looked at his bottle and said, “about half full.”
Instead of lecturing them about carrying open bottles or issuing them a citation for it, St. Cyr asked them to dump the beer out and watched as they complied. Knowing that they had been given a break, one of the men said, “Thanks, dude!” before the group wandered away to find a garbage can to dump the bottles.
During another drive near the Stone Arch Bridge, St. Cyr spotted a car parked on the dirt roads along the Mississippi River bank.
“We’ll just see what they’re up to,” he said, adding that motor vehicles are not allowed on the roads by the river.
Outside the car was a teen-age couple that had come to the riverfront to smoke cigarettes. St. Cyr simply told them to leave the area.
“Someone like that, I just tell them it’s not safe to be down there,” he said, referring to the high rate of crime in that area.
Most weekend nights, St. Cyr spends some time walking through one of the University’s residence halls with a resident assistant.
As we drove up to Territorial Hall, St. Cyr noticed four cars parked in a fire lane. He slapped parking tickets on the cars and had a brief discussion with the owner of one of them. The man had thought that since he arrived while St. Cyr was still writing the ticket, he would not receive one. St. Cyr told him otherwise.
Then we entered the residence hall, where a typical walk consists of St. Cyr asking residents to turn down their music and checking the hallways for marijuana smoke.
This Friday night turned out to be atypical. Almost as soon as we entered the building, a resident assistant approached St. Cyr and asked him to assist with some baseball players who had too much to drink.
It was initiation night for new players, and one of the men St. Cyr had been asked to deal with had vomited on a bathroom floor and the floor of a dorm room. After a brief interview, St. Cyr gave the two men, aged 18 and 19, breath tests. Then he issued each a citation for underage drinking and asked other residents to stay up with the man who had previously vomited.
Driving away, St. Cyr said the fine for underage consumption is usually around $85, but depending on a person’s previous record could be as high as $250.
Then there was another traffic stop where a truck ran a red light. St. Cyr gave the driver a verbal warning. Soon after, Territorial Hall management called University Police again for help with more intoxicated baseball players.
When we entered the hall for the second time, a resident assistant asked me and the photographer to wait in the lobby because, he said, one of the players was not fully clothed. Reluctantly, we complied.
Fifteen minutes later, St. Cyr came out and told us that he had to take one of the men to the University Hospital’s emergency room for extreme dehydration. Apparently the man had consumed a copious amount of alcohol that evening.
Since St. Cyr’s shift was almost over and he said he would probably be at the emergency room for some time, we said goodbye for the night.
It felt like the night was still just beginning, but I had spent a full eight-hour shift as a guest cop. As I walked back to my car, I kept replaying the best part of the night in my head: the wailing siren as the car left a trail of dust on a dirt road.