Campus Safety: A ride-along with Nate Weiss

36

They’re there when you’re locked out, when you need a ride back from the library after midnight and when the laundry machine is broken. Especially following the recent body modification of their vehicles and the addition of Segways to their fleet, it seems that Campus Safety is an ever-present force on campus.

Finding students who have thoughts — positive and negative — on Campus Safety, or “Campo,” as they are often called, is easy. However, the organization’s day-to-day activities may be more of a mystery.

Despite only having interacted with Campus Safety once in response to a parking violation, Luke Haas (first year) is relatively indifferent to the group.

“I don’t have much of an opinion, but it seems to me that people have a negative view towards them,” Haas explains. “People complain about how they don’t really do much.”

Indeed, Campus Safety came under fire from students barely two months ago. Following the Sept. 5 arrest of a local community member in the Green Bean Coffee Lounge, some students alleged that Campus Safety lacks transparency in their actions and policies. The Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity (C.O.D.E.) expressed the perceived shortcomings in a Sept. 13 Facebook post condemning how Campus Safety handled the incident.

“We ask that Campus Safety actively and openly communicates with the Occidental Community about their policies and procedures,” the post reads. “After speaking with several student witnesses following the events of Saturday, Sept. 5, there are several areas of concern that have come to light given this situation and the larger campus climate.”

The areas of concern, according to C.O.D.E.’s statement, were that Campus Safety used excessive force in the removal of a man of color who may have been differently-abled. The Facebook post stated that the actions taken by Campus Safety reflected both unclear policies and an exclusion of difference from public spaces.

Chief of Campus Safety Victor Clay believes, as Campus Safety is not trained to evaluate individuals for intoxication and other issues, the officers involved performed as instructed in seeking assistance from the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). That being said, Clay said that Campus Safety would respond to a list of eight demands presented by C.O.D.E. Sept. 18.

“I support [the list of demands] 100 percent,” Clay said via email. “Campus Safety works for the entire community, so our current practices and future policies will be made available for the entire community to review. Additionally, our doors are always open, and I encourage my staff to speak freely about our practices whenever they are engaged in conversations.”

According to the Campus Safety access policy, the Occidental campus is open to community members; however, as Occidental is a private institution, Campus Safety reserves the right to ask individuals to leave.

Clay agreed that changes should be made to the policy so that Campus Safety’s actions more accurately reflect community needs.

“I think [Campus Safety and C.O.D.E.] agreed that working together and establishing a reasonable timeline for implementing our already planned improvements was the answer to most of their concerns,” Clay said. “Also, [we agreed on] making sure that the proposed changes and improvements are reasonable, effective, efficient and appropriate for the entire community.”

Speaking about her recent experiences with an officer, Sammy Herdman (first-year) agreed that Campus Safety seemed to prioritize working with students.

“On Halloween night, my friend was too drunk and we were having trouble getting her back up to her dorm … ” Herdman said. “We couldn’t figure out how to get her back to her dorm because she couldn’t walk.”

They saw Campus Safety and called the officer over. Herdman noted that the officer wanted to help, and that he intentionally drove slowly up the hill to keep the drunk student from feeling sick.

Clay feels that the Occidental community is a sort of family and welcomes student opinions regarding any experiences they have had with Campus Safety staff.

“That type of feedback and commentary is invaluable to us,” Clay said via e-mail. “We can only get better if we know where to improve.”

***

The sky is dark and a chilly wind has begun to pick up. Brief, loud cheers of a high school football game on Patterson Field cut through the quiet night. Every so often, the gate of Facilities Management, which houses the Campus Safety office, opens and closes as someone exits or returns. Eventually, the door of the office opens yet again, revealing a man who motions to us — The Occidental Weekly staff who will be spending the night shadowing his shift — with a wave. He introduces himself as Nate Weiss once behind the wheel of his Campus Safety vehicle.

It’s about 8:30 p.m., early for Halloween night. Weiss enters information into a small computer that sits to the right of the steering wheel, something he calls “logging.” He explains that, because it’s the beginning of his shift, there isn’t much to record. Weiss puts the car into drive, turns up a country music station and rolls slowly toward the gate.

The night has begun.

The gate jerkily rolls open and Weiss turns right, toward the center of campus. For the next two hours, Weiss responds to questions and volunteers information almost without pause.

Weiss graduated from Occidental in 2010. He came to Los Angeles to study acting, something he stuck with throughout his four years as a student, even majoring in theater. Weiss acted in dozens of plays as a student and has been in four plays since he graduated, as well as many films. His goal is to be a film actor.

To support himself, he looked for jobs that had night shifts so that he could go to auditions and focus on acting during the day.

As a student, Weiss figured that his best route was to search for a job on campus. Starting as a part-time employee at the Athletics Department front desk, Weiss eventually became a full-time officer last year. Along with this came longer hours and full-time employee benefits.

“Because I was part-time, they were willing to hire me on and then kind of put me through training, as it became clear that I was going to become full-time,” Weiss explains. “We have certain trainings we do every year, some every other year, but they are pretty much constantly ongoing.”

Weiss also had to take a multi-part entrance exam for the officer position.

“There was a small physical component to it, basically demonstrating how to make a lawful detainment and arrest and a little bit of self-defense. The test itself was a little challenging … but I scored pretty well,” Weiss said, chuckling.

Driving past a scattered group of students walking up to Norris Hall, Weiss glances out of the window, quickly scanning the scene.

Stating that safety remains Campus Safety’s top priority, Weiss says it is difficult to predict if students carrying or holding alcohol are going to end up safe at the end of the night.

“You don’t necessarily know what that might lead to, so if I see someone walking with a bottle and they appear totally sober, that’s great, I’m totally happy that they’re sober,” Weiss says. “But at the same time, two hours from now, they might be someone we need to call paramedics for.”

If a student is found to be illegally in possession of alcohol or drugs, Campus Safety’s protocol is to take a photograph of the substance and, depending which substance it is, either confiscate or dispose of it. The officer also records the student’s information and files a report.

Since becoming an officer, Weiss has only seen marijuana and alcohol, the latter the most common substance. However, just from his time as a student at Occidental, Weiss knows there are students who indulge in many other drugs on campus.

In the moments when students are approached by Campus Safety, Weiss mentions that they are occasionally resistant. He explains that the push-back often comes from students who are drunk and don’t want the paramedics to come; he understands that nobody wants to get in trouble and the situation can feel embarrassing.

Ultimately, Weiss says he approaches the job from a student’s perspective. It seems that he is not the only officer who feels this way.

“Not every encounter with law enforcement or security personnel will be pleasant,” said Clay via e-mail. “But if we can work toward performing at a level of professionalism and courtesy that reduces and hopefully eliminates negative encounters, we will continue to build positive and lasting relationships with the entire community. That is my goal.”

Weiss passes the softball field at the front of campus and turns left, heading off campus.

Campus Safety’s role off campus has changed within the past couple of years. At one time, they were constantly responding to noise complaints and house calls, but the legality of doing so has recently limited their off-campus duties.

Giving an abbreviated version of the legal issues with off-campus calls, Weiss explains that because most of the off-campus houses are private property, the LAPD are now the first responders to the scene.

“Typically on a weekend, because of that, most of our calls will be on campus,” Weiss says.

While Campus Safety’s off-campus missions have been greatly stifled, officers will often patrol areas immediately off campus just to ensure that students are safe, Weiss says. According to him, escorting students from off-campus locations is still common.

Weiss hopes that Campus Safety’s presence will encourage students to remain safe.

Re-entering campus, Weiss drives through an entrance on the west side of campus by Newcomb, a residential hall on campus. Without prompt, Weiss outlines a typical night as an officer. While he says that no one shift is the same, there is a general pattern to his weekday and his weekend nights.

Weiss starts his shift at 10 p.m. on weeknights and patrols for about half an hour to an hour. Next, he closes and locks all academic buildings in either the North end of campus or the Academic Quad, depending on which locations officers are assigned to.

If the lockdowns are done by the time he arrives, he patrols until midnight or 1 a.m., at which point he checks the residential halls to make sure no doors are left open.

Weiss also mentions that driving for long periods of time is not always the best way to patrol.

“Sometimes we change up how we patrol,” he explains. “Sometimes what I’ll do is set up shop and scan from there. If you drive around constantly for more than a few hours you start to get tunnel vision, and it’s harder to see what’s going on.”

At 3 a.m., those on duty have to unlock the buildings and perform other tasks to prepare campus for the upcoming day.

“You start with your lockdowns in the beginning, patrol in the middle, lock-up at the end of the shift, but you’re kind of always patrolling,” Weiss concludes. “We usually have a regular route, in no particular order.”

Over the recent Halloween weekend — as is the norm with holiday weekends — Campus Safety experienced a greater number of calls than usual.

“People might get a little extra crazy because it is a holiday, so [on Halloween weekend], we have almost everybody on staff,” says Weiss.

He added that the additional staff were also present that weekend to provide support for the Alpha Lambda Phi Alpha Nocturnal Wonderland school-wide dance. According to Weiss, as dances progress, Campus Safety officers generally get busier and busier escorting students back to their residences and maintaining a safe environment on and off campus.

By 3 a.m. on weekend nights, most of the campus is asleep. Weekday nights are generally earlier.

While calls typically become scarce after this time on weekday nights, Weiss’s shifts are long. Typically, he works from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. in the morning. He explains that, due to a lack of personnel, he will sometimes work longer.

“Right now, we’re slightly understaffed and stretched a little thin,” Weiss notes. “There’s usually lots of overtime to go around, especially these days.”

While many nights are very similar for Weiss, he says that some can be more frightening.

“The call that stands out in my mind is last year, about 3 a.m., 3:30 a.m. in the morning on a weekend night,” Weiss says. “There was a student who was intoxicated on top of Mount Fiji who had actually fallen down the backside of the hill. His friends couldn’t find him and he was unconscious.”

That night, Weiss and his partner drove to the bottom of the hill after receiving a panicked phone call in which the student had desperately requested immunity, a policy that excuses students from any consequences related to alcohol or drugs if they or another party reach out for medical attention. As the pair walked up the steep, unpaved embankment to the top of the hill, Weiss saw one of the callers sprinting away, abandoning his friend.

Weiss was able to find the student, who had fallen more than fifty feet down the backside of Fiji, because of the reflective surfaces on Nike shoes which caught Weiss’s flashlight beam.

He shares another story concerning a non-student.

“I once spent 35 minutes trying to get this guy in front of Berkus Hall to get off campus, the 100 yards it takes to get off campus,” Weiss says. “And he just wouldn’t do it, wouldn’t do it, wouldn’t do it. I finally convinced him to do it, but then he came back on campus and was hiding in the bushes. So at that point, we were like, this guy’s not cooperating. We called LAPD and turned him over to them.”

He says he’s dealt with people late at night and early in the morning acting suspiciously, even wielding objects such as crowbars.

Weiss briefly covers the boundaries of what officers can and cannot do. Because they are not police officers, Campus Safety personnel can only detain — handcuff and hold — anyone blatantly violating the law until LAPD arrives. Weiss has used his handcuffs more than once.

Weiss explains that the instances in which he used handcuffs were those involving non-students, who in his opinion were acting suspiciously on campus. Oftentimes, if Weiss sees a person on campus at 3:00 a.m. who looks much older than a college student, he will approach them. Usually, these people are walking through campus with their dogs on a leash or taking a shortcut to get home, and he feels no need to take action.

Weiss describes that when he began working as an officer, he was a little bit nervous, though he never worried for his own safety.

“I was usually just making sure I did my job well, and I was able to secure the safety of the students,” Weiss explains.

He says that Campus Safety is keenly aware that Occidental is in Los Angeles, a point they try to impress upon students, especially those who find themselves intoxicated off campus. He adds that a major worry among officers is that some students might not understand the dangers of living in a huge, urban environment.

“While Oxy itself appears to be an oasis, or a bubble, and it is in some ways, we are right in the middle of Los Angeles and there are serious gangs and gang activity that happen in the area,” Weiss says. “It’s not that safe of an area by and large.”

Though Eagle Rock may not be absolutely crime-free, it is not extremely dangerous either. In the past week, Eagle Rock had a reported two violent crimes — 3.2 violent crimes per 10,000 peopleand nine property crimes, a low count relative to many other neighborhoods in the area.

Weiss says that while problems are rare, they do happen.

“That’s why we wear the vests, that’s why we have the escort program, because we do occasionally get people on campus who can be dangerous,” Weiss says. “And that’s something we feel like not everyone fully appreciates and understands.”

Sometimes, neighbors and students will have disputes and altercations, so Campus Safety will have to patrol to keep the peace.

“One of the neighbors who used to do most of the complaining about one of the party houses recently moved,” Weiss notes. “I just don’t think she could take it anymore.”

Another call comes over the radio, and Weiss tunes in. We’re off campus at the intersection of Paulhan Avenue and Avenue 46, where students from the baseball team are living this year.

“I’m right here, I can grab it,” Weiss responds.

Up the street, two students stand on the corner next to a stop sign, almost invisible against the night.

Weiss leans out of the window and asks if the students called for an escort; they verify that they did. Once they’re in the car, Weiss pulls away from the curb slowly and heads toward Berkus Hall on the request of the passengers. One student appears drunk and misspells his last name several times.

Upon reaching Berkus, the students step out and close the doors, thanking Weiss and saying goodnight.

By now it’s about 10 p.m., and we are at the top of campus by Norris Hall. On lower campus, the dance has just begun.

There are several other Campus Safety cars and a scattering of people in the dance area, but there are only a few students in the quad. However, there are many Campus Safety officers on the perimeter, monitoring anything that might go wrong.

Walking back to his car, Weiss notes that he’s enjoyed speaking with the Weekly.

“This is actually fun for me,” Weiss volunteers. “Sometimes it can get a little lonely, driving around.”

Usually, when Weiss’s shift ends in the morning, he finds himself hanging around for a little while longer as the new officers come in. Going 10 hours without really seeing or talking at length with anyone is difficult, so he welcomes the company.

After all of the talk about his job as an officer and his duties on campus, Weiss gets a little more sentimental. He talks briefly about his time at Occidental and how much he enjoyed it, saying that sometimes, when he passes by people talking and laughing and going to parties, he wishes he could go back to his years in college. He offers current students a bit of advice.

“Soak it up man, it goes by so fast,” he says. “ When you’re looking on the other end of it you’re like, college is done. It’s one of the best times of your life.”