BEHIND THE SCENES
COMMUNITY SERVICE OFFICER PROGRAM, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY
How does Sacramento State ensure a safe and secure campus environment for its community of over 30,000 students, faculty and staff? It’s no small job for a police force of 20 plus police officers pulling shifts 24/7 to cover a 300-acre campus and the University’s remote properties. But thanks to an innovative and successful program that counts on students and the campus community for support, the University’s Department of Public Safety has extended its reach.
The idea behind Public Safety’s Community Service Officer (CSO) Program is not unique. Based on the philosophy of community policing introduced in the 1980s and espoused by many police agencies as a valuable adjunct to traditional law enforcement, Public Safety embraced it as a custom fit for the higher-education environment. Proactive, as opposed to reactive, it relies on interactions and partnerships with the community as a key factor in the prevention of crime and the creation of a safe environment.
What is unique about this program is that it is staffed entirely by students. At Sac State, Community Service Officers (CSOs) are an important link to the campus community, creating a safety presence by increasing the visibility and accessibility of public safety personnel. They are ambassadors for the campus police, interacting with the pubic and acting as “the eyes and ears” of the department, according to Sergeant and CSO Coordinator Bill Scholtz, who oversees the program with Lieutenant Christina Lofthouse. While CSOs are not sworn officers, they supplement and complement the work of sworn personnel.
The CSO program has evolved over time, starting in the mid-80s with just five students working nights in the residence halls and doubling in 2003 to ten student officers with expanded responsibilities for campus patrols. Today, the program employs 32 CSOs who patrol the general campus, the residence halls, the library and the AIRC Building (open 24 hours a day, seven days a week). CSOs also staff the new Public Safety Service centers in Desmond Hall and the University Union.
The CSO Program employs student officers who work shifts, on foot or on bike. Duties range from speaking at orientations to a thousand freshmen about crime prevention and dorm security tips to spotting campus security violations and hazards while on patrol. Officers also perform escorts, staff special events, engrave student valuables, license bicycles and register students for the campus Emergency Notification System (ENS). As service providers, CSOs provide directions, assist with vehicle lock-outs, respond to assist officers on call, direct traffic, and act as information resources for the campus community.
While CSOs are paid student assistants, the real bonus is in the mentoring they receive and the experiences they gain as para-professionals. On the job, officers learn to apply the program’s fundamental values to their work - community service, integrity, professionalism, sensitivity, respect and teamwork. They receive ten hours of training initially, and periodic follow-up training on a variety of topics. Risk management is critical, but they also learn about radio communications and vehicle maintenance and receive driver and bike training. CSOs come from a variety of academic disciplines, although the majority major in Criminal Justice.
CSO Eddie Loss, who has been in the program for almost two years, sees the program as great job training, a stepping stone to a law enforcement career. The interpersonal relationships developed in the program provide a network that officers can use for future references to obtain internships or gain admission to the police academy. More importantly, the experience provides an opportunity to put classroom learning into real-life practice, according to Loss.
Rolando Medina, a lead CSO with the longest tenure of all program participants, values the public relations skills he has gained most, and sees them as critical in law enforcement. And, the campus provides an ideal environment in which to practice communication skills and obtain technical skills training in preparation for a law enforcement career. As leads, officers serve as mentors to new CSOs, gaining leadership skills practice as well. Medina is concurrently enrolled in a local police academy. The POST* certification earned there will qualify him for a position as a sworn police officer.
The CSO Program has become an integral part of the University Police Department, providing a valuable service to the campus, and helping to improve response time and reduce crime. According to Scholtz, the vigilance of the CSOs and the rapid reporting of suspicious circumstances has been a general deterrent to crime on campus. CSOs sometimes work special “plain clothes” assignments, allowing for better observation and reporting. In specific instances, officers have been the primary witnesses to criminal activity which subsequently resulted in arrest. Scholtz sees CSO efforts as an important factor in the reduction of campus auto burglaries and thefts, with a drop in incidences from 2005 to 2009 of 85 and 80 percent respectively.
Sac State’s Public Safety Department and, by extension, students employed by the CSO Program take seriously their charge of maintaining a safe campus. Clearly, they have played a role in creating the welcoming campus envisioned by Destination 2010. Moreover, program students are gaining meaningful learning experiences in a service that is important to their campus community and practicing skills that can open career opportunities in criminal justice and related fields.
*Peace Officers Standards & Training
Community Service officers pictured above (in alpha order): Brenden Barckley, Franklin Beardsley, Avi Brotslaw, Nathaniel Curran, Brenda Esquirel, Angelo Fracasso, Brett Heath, Justin Horton, Pamala Kline, Chris Knight, Anthony Lara, Eddie Loss, Rolando Medina, Judy Muthoni, Robert Natoli, Ted Reynolds, David Santos, Justin Smith, Phillip Tieu
Not pictured: Jessica Craven, Branden Feldman, Eric Gazola, Diego Gutierrez, Matthew Lukawski, Ashlyn Owen, Lindsay Parmer, Travis Rakes, Stephanie Remlinger, Jonathan Sanati, Jessica Schwend, T.J. Torres, Chor Yang