Ride Along Assignment

Locking Staircases is Just as Important as High-Speed Chases

On November 1st, 2017, I embarked on a ride along with University of Northern Iowa public safety officer, Stacy Davis. From open-ended quality questions and in-depth, educative answers, to witnessing Davis’ daily routine through traffic stops, building checks, and ultimately just maintaining order around campus, this truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Officer Davis greeted me with a smile as I met her for the first time. This allowed me to feel comfortable almost immediately, which made it easier for me to ask as many questions as possible. Before anything, I wanted to receive some background information on officer Davis. This is because I knew that understanding her background would allow me to understand why she does certain things a certain way and allow me to ask proper questions later in the ride along.

Officer Davis has been an officer for nine years, however, she’s only spent about two-and-a-half years here at the University of Northern Iowa. She spent the other seven or so years in Clive, Iowa, which is on the outskirts of Des Moines.

After finding this out, I asked when did you know she wanted to be a cop, and whether she went to a university or straight to the academy. To my surprise, Davis actually graduated from UNI several years ago. In fact, she graduated with a degree in Biology and Anthropology.

“Yeah, I knew I wanted to be an officer, but my original plan was to go into forensics, solve crime, and be in a lab,” said officer Davis, “but I understand that you have to start at the bottom before you can reach the top, so I’ve been here for a while.”

I immediately gained a huge amount of respect for officer Davis after that statement as I could tell she was metaphorically “biting the bullet” in order to eventually move up in the police force and ultimately do what she absolutely loves, which is studying forensics. With that said, she wasn’t by any means unhappy to be in her current position, in fact, she appeared to love her job.

As the ride continued, we started going through officer Davis’ nightly routine, which included checking that buildings are locked, checking parking lots for illegal parking and suspicious activity, and parking at the 23rd market to oversee the highly-active four-way stop. At this point, I realized one major theme: The daily routine of the University of Northern Iowa public safety officer is much different than a Cedar Falls or Waterloo police officer.

“Most arrests involve drugs and alcohol,” said officer Davis, “and most of those arrests are classified as public intoxications.”

Officer Davis continued on the subject of public intoxication and I actually learned some surprising, yet valuable, information.

“Public intoxication actually can actually be given to those who are just acting weird, not just to those who are drunk,” said officer Davis, “most people think that it’s only for being drunk, but if you are high, just took a bunch of prescription pills, or even shot meth, you can get arrested for public intoxication.

Although officer Davis has arrested people for public intoxication before, it’s apparently not very common. With that said, most of her nights, as mentioned earlier, consist of traffic stops and building checks.

As we continued to drive through parking lots around the flurried, quiet, and frigid campus, I saw one of the emergency phones, or “blue phones”, and saw an opportunity to obtain some information on those.

“The blue phones don’t get used a whole lot, and if they do, it’s most likely an accident,” claimed officer Davis, “I remember just this past family weekend a very young child hit it for fun, but I was still required to drive to the location and make sure the scene is safe.”

Davis also informed me that someone can actually be arrested if they press the button for fun and get caught. This rarely happens, but if it does, it’s typically a drunken college student.

On the topic of drunken college students, I saw a perfect opportunities to ask officer Davis about the bars on the hill, drinking in the dorms, and what an officer’s night is like on a busy night such as Homecoming.

“Surprisingly, homecoming wasn’t that bad this year,” said officer Davis, “not nearly as bad as it was in 1996 when there were riots on the hill after bars closed early at 11 P.M.”

This statement immediately caught my attention. I can’t imagine there being riots on the hill, especially over something so silly. At the same time, inebriated people, especially college students, will do the most bizarre things, especially when accompanied by a group of more inebriated college students.

I began to ask officer Davis about the bars on the hill this year, but she immediately stopped me and informed me that, “Waterloo and Cedar Falls PD takes care of the bars, unless we are called upon.” As anyone would, I asked her, “why?”

“They’re simply just not under our jurisdiction,” answered officer Davis, “we do not own College Street, and the same concept applies for other streets around such as Seerley and University.”

This further proved to me that a UNI public safety officer’s daily routine is much different than an officer of the Waterloo or Cedar Falls police department. In fact, as expected, a public safety officer’s daily routine is relatively boring. Although this may be true, I want to make it known that their job isn’t any less important than any other officer of the law.

“Yeah, we (public safety officers) really don’t get called anywhere a lot,” said officer Davis, “we are here to just ensure the safety of the students and make sure the university is running smoothly, which is usually is.”

Ironically, as officer Davis was mentioning this, I happened to notice the massive assault rifle securely holstered right behind me in the middle of her squad car. Although I mentioned that a public safety officer’s job differs greatly from other officers, their jobs are just as important and they receive the exact same training as any other officer, hence the massive assault rifle.

On the same note, I know that some people hate guns and automatically feel unsafe when in the presence of one, but knowing that public safety officers have an assault rifle at their disposal makes me feel extremely safe and comfortable, especially since our nation is in the midst of an awful era in which a mass-shooting, especially at a schools and university, isn’t the most unlikely of possibilities.

This observation of course transitioned our conversation to the topic of guns. I asked Davis if she has ever had to use, or even pull out her weapon on campus.

“No, not even close,” responded Davis, “I’ve actually never even had to use my taser or pepper spray.”

This surprised me. I figured that she would have tasered or pepper sprayed a drunken college student at least once during her two years at the University.

Davis continued, “from what I’ve noticed, your presence and words will usually be enough, especially if you treat a suspect with respect and you sound confident.”

This statement actually didn’t surprise me very much at all. I guess if I was ever in a situation in which officer Davis had to arrest me, I know that her calm, yet authoritative tone of voice would definitely persuade me to surrender before any additional force such as a taser, pepper spray, or even a gun would need to be used. With that said, I know I will never be in such a situation, but for the sake of the paper and ride along, I had to imagine it.

As we continued to sit in front of the 23rd Street Market and my ride along was quickly coming to an end, I remember thinking to myself, “I’m thankful for public safety officers, but wow they truly do not get much action other than locking doors, handing out parking tickets, performing escorts, and simply watching over traffic stops.”

Ironically, as I was thinking that, someone completely flew through the four-way stop.

First and foremost, I want to mention that I would have loved to get this moment or any moment throughout my ride along on video, but officer Davis preferred to not be recorded, which is request that I both understood and respected.

“We got one!” yelled officer Davis as she un-parked her car and sped after them. I’m not going to lie, this was really exciting. I will be the first to admit that it was nice being on the other end of the situation this time, rather than actually being the person getting pulled over.

As we pulled them over, the vehicle parallel parked and officer Davis shined her spotlight on them. To my surprise, it wasn’t just some inconsiderate college student as I had expected, it was an elderly man behind the wheel, accompanied by his wife.

“Aw it looks like a grandma.” sighed officer Davis. I could understand why she had sadness in her voice as we both knew the older gentlemen probably didn’t even know the stop sign was there. However, following protocol, she approached the vehicle and performed her normal duties such as asking for a license and registration.

It turns out that the older gentlemen parallel parked because he was actually going to mass at that church located just a couple blocks down from the 23rd Street Market. I found this ironic because I always hear stories of people being pulled over and pleading to the cops that they were “just trying to make it to church on time” in an attempt to get out of a ticket. With that said, here we are in a situation where that actually was the case, it’s funny how that worked.

Regardless of the reason for running the stop sign, officer Davis understood that the gentlemen had broken law and needed to be given a citation. She wrote him a $30 fine, handed it to them, they still went to mass, and my ride along came to an end.

As I had mentioned, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the information I learned is information that simply cannot be taught in a classroom. Although public safety officers don’t get the high-profile cases, high-speed chases, hostage situations, and gun fights that a lot of people envision when they think of police officers, they do ensure that the University of Northern Iowa is safe and running smoothly, which is just as important, or maybe even more important than anything else.

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