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Safety First: Community Service Officers Expand Role on Campus

It happens every school year. Bikes are routinely abandoned on campus, cluttering up bike racks and creating problems for students, faculty and staff who can’t find a place to lock up their bikes.

With just one bicycle enforcement officer on the UC San Diego Police Department, gathering up the abandoned bikes can present a challenge. This summer, however, the department tried something different. At the suggestion of Sergeant Manuel “Nel” Garcia, who oversees the department’s Community Service Officer Program, CSOs began assisting with bike abatement. The team of student officers fanned out across campus dutifully tagging bikes with warnings, then helping to remove abandoned bikes.

The result? Some 740 bikes were collected, freeing up a significant amount of bike rack space on campus.

“I’ve heard from students who were happy to be able to use the bike racks now,” said Garcia. “Since this worked so well, we’ll continue using CSOs throughout the school year to maintain what we’ve started.”

Serving as part of a bike abatement brigade is just part of CSOs’ expanding duties at UC San Diego. The program—similar to other student community officer programs at colleges around the country—has existed on campus for more than 35 years and has long been focused on providing safety escort services, currently available year-round from sunset to 3:30 a.m. But in the four years since Garcia assumed responsibility for the program, CSOs have been steadily serving the campus in more ways.

“CSOs help police,” said Garcia, “They are the extra eyes and ears that help keep the campus safe. With more buildings going up and expanded services being offered on campus, it seemed like an opportunity to grow the CSO program and get the students even more involved in taking care of their community.”

Under Garcia’s watch, the program has grown from 18 students to approximately 75 students with a goal of hiring 50-60 more this quarter. In addition to acting as safety escorts, CSOs also assist with patrolling parking lots and buildings around campus, providing additional security at campus events, assisting with medical emergencies – all CSOs are trained in CPR/First Aid – and even providing fire watch services in cases where buildings have experienced trouble with fire alarms or with new construction in which alarms haven’t been installed yet.

“We’ve used the CSOs for security patrols and fire watch on our buildings,” said Steve Horner, a senior superintendent with Housing, Dining and Hospitality who oversees east campus housing. “We used to contract with private security but began working with Nel and the CSOs instead. The students are already here, they’re already equipped with radios, and they know the campus and the police. It’s a win-win for everyone and it’s been a great experience all around.”

CSOs are now also participating in one of the police department’s newest safety services – Triton Rides. The free, nighttime shuttle service is modeled after a similar service that begin at UC Davis a couple of years ago and takes UC San Diego students, faculty and staff from any on-campus location to another on-campus location and within a one-mile radius outside the campus. The service, available from 11:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., seven days a week, is meant to fill the gap between when Transportation Services’ regular shuttle service ends and begins.

“We’re always looking for ways to serve the campus community,” says Garcia. “If we see a need, we try to fill it.”

To drive for Triton Rides, CSOs must have a valid California driver’s license and complete rigorous driver safety training administered by UC San Diego police personnel. Currently, the service is averaging 35-40 rides a night.

“It’s a good experience for the CSOs,” says Garcia. “The students learn valuable people skills by interacting with passengers and providing customer service. These types of skills are important to have.”

UC San Diego alumnus Nick Rodden agrees. Rodden, who graduated in June, was a CSO for four years and even continued working through the summer after graduation.

“I gained decision-making skills, life skills and a lot of confidence from being a CSO,” said Rodden, who started with the program as a first-year and eventually served as “officer in charge,” managing other CSOs. “Expectations were high but we learned what needed to be done in order to accomplish our goals. You had to be a self-starter and learn how to work with a variety of people.”

Now Rodden will use these skills when he begins working for the San Diego Harbor Police this fall.

“I’d always had a passing interest in law enforcement,” he says. “But being a CSO, working with UCSD officers and helping others out, made me realize this is what I want to do. The program affected me greatly.”