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UWRF falls behind other state universities’ security

May 2, 2008

Out of the 13 four-year universities in the UW-System, only one campus is protected by anything less than certified police officers. That campus is UW-River Falls.

“That’s really shocking, especially considering how close we are to the Twin Cities,” senior Jessica Schaffer said.

UW-Green Bay, UW-Parkside, UW-Platteville and UW-Superior all have smaller student bodies as UWRF, yet they all have police explicitly associated with their campuses. UW-Parkside, with a student body of roughly 5,000, employs nine police officers, and UW-Platteville has six police officers for its 6,000-student campus. UWRF, however, only has Public Safety, which is staffed by five full-time and four part-time safety officers.

The differences between police and Public Safety have to do with the extent of authority an officer has. Police officers have the power to detain, authority to enforce all state statutes and force traffic if that is something the University needs, Public Safety director Dick Trende said.

Even though they are not certified police officers, Public Safety officers “do have the authority to enforce Wisconsin administrative code and other state statutes,” according to the Public Safety Web site.

Campus officers can issue limited citations, including underage drinking, vandalism and disorderly conduct among others, Trende said.

“Other than protecting somebody or protecting themselves, they really don’t have authority to detain,” Trende said.

Public Safety can tell violators to stop, but they are unable to do anything more, such as stopping and identifying them.

For any situations that go beyond their authority, officers contact the River Falls Police Department.

The RFPD has a policy in place for handling campus-related issues, according to River Falls Police Chief Roger Leque.

But that may not be enough.

“We try to be as effective as we can, but there certainly are limitations,” Trende said.

At this stage, there are some officers who are licensed, but who only work part time. All of the officers have at least an associate degree, and some have a bachelor’s degree, according to Trende.

Officers are constantly going through updated training, as well, Trende said. The most recent training exercises had to do with pepper spray and bomb threats.

Yet the limitations are becoming problematic, since campus safety has become a national concern.

“In light of recent events, campuses across the country are re-thinking campus security,” Leque said.

Within the last year on the UWRF campus there have been multiple incidents to raise alarm at the lack of security. Multiple bomb scares and attempts at rape beg the question of where are the police when they are needed.

Jessica Johnson, a senior biology major, said she felt that Public Safety could be better.

“I think Public Safety isn’t always around when they’re needed,” she said.

Junior Matt Cartier, however, did not express much concern about the lack of certified police officers on campus.

“I feel safe,” he said. “It’s a pretty small town, and I think everyone pretty much takes care of each other.”

Johnson has not experienced or witnessed any violent crime on campus. The strangest thing she encountered, she said, was a man dressed in a banana suit pulling a wagon. The man handed her some fruit snacks left over from a campus event, but otherwise left her alone.

But Johnson said she would still feel more confident in campus security if officers were fully certified.

“In some cases they’d be able to do more instead of being just a figurehead, which is kind of what I see them as now,” she said.

Leque said that he “would be in support of Public Safety having a separate police presence.”

Trende also has recommended to administrators that UWRF employ a full staff of police officers.

“[Being police officers] gives them a lot more latitude as far as being able to protect people,” he said.

Trende also said that retention of officers would be positively affected if campus administrators decide to turn Public Safety into a police presence, mostly because of increased salaries that would allow officers to live off their wages.

That pay increase is what stands in the way of turning Public Safety into a police force.

The University is in the process of assessing the status of campus security, Trende said.

As a licensed police officer, he was one step towards making Public Safety a more capable security presence.

“[Administrators] have been extremely supportive,” Trende said.

For the UWRF campus, at least six police officers would be necessary to provide 24-hour security, along with part-time supporting staff, Trende said.

“It’s something that would be gradual -it wouldn’t be something spontaneous.”