(Campus) Cops

29

Author: Nick Nam

8:45 p.m. – My night begins with a large Americana from the Cooler. I have a feeling that my excursion with Campus Security will hold many surprises. Armed with caffeine in one hand and pen and paper in the other, I dart inside the gates of Campus Safety Headquarters as they screech open for me.

Barricaded in steel, only a few street lamps illuminate the circular fortress. An array of patrol cars sits waiting for the officers. Only the light inside the office lets me believe that any form of human life exists within the building, cozily situated beneath Oxy’s tennis courts.

I quietly wait inside the headquarters for Officers Mourthi and Willis as I sip my coffee. Like Batman and Robin, they arrive in uniform, ready to keep Oxy safe from the things that go bang in the night. Both introduce themselves with a warm smile. I can’t help also smiling because, like they were straight out of a 1970s crime drama, both sport full mustaches. Officer Ed Mourthi, the shorter of the two, has a stocky build, while Officer Charles Willis has a tall, lanky build. Officer Mourthi was more talkative from the beginning and Officer Willis gave off a more calm, quiet vibe. Both men were each other’s contrast. They could pull off a crime fighting duo role convincingly.

We begin in a very procedural manner. They tell me that the first 10 to 15 minutes before patrolling Oxy and Eagle Rock are spent at the table in the middle of the office. The officers on duty first cover what happened in previous shifts. In addition, they go through tips they’ve been given from professors regarding which off-campus houses may be having parties that night. These procedures always take place before heading out, so that officers are aware of any special details regarding anything happening on campus that evening.

Officer Mourthi and Officer Willis both belong to an on-campus safety patrol team called Residence Hall Outreach Patrol Officers, or “RHOPO” for short. This group of officers mainly concentrates on monitoring residence halls and also responds to off campus parties. Three officers usually patrol the campus on weekdays. On a typical weekend, our school has four to ten officers patrolling on and off-campus locations, depending on whether there’s a large event.

The three of us head outside and the officers double check for materials: extra flashlights, first aid kit, and, of course, coffee.I tell Officers Mourthi and Willis how excited I am to follow Campus Safety on the job. As I imagine the course of the night, I let my mind wander in all different directions, creating visions of alcohol-infused pandemonium.

In response to my enthusiasm, Officer Mourthi tells me that most nights are filled with “hours of monotony and seconds of sheer terror.”

Much of the officers’ time is spent endlessly driving, looking for a lead to some action. For the sake of a juicy and savory article, I wished the night would be filled with the latter.

9:17 p.m. – my adventure finally begins. I sit behind the two officers while the Campus Security car quietly prowls the dark surrounding neighborhood. Inside the car, the two men start small-talk about the recent Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Boston Red Sox game. I feel like I’m in the car with my dad back home in Washington.

Officer Mourthi has patrolled the streets of Eagle Rock and Occidental College for two years and Officer Willis joined the team last February. As they scan the area, I ask them about the craziest incidents they have had to deal with after joining “RHOPO” at Oxy.

They tell me that a few weeks ago, they found a drunken man lying in front of the fountain late at night. Another time, while patrolling the campus elsewhere, the dynamic duo stumbled upon a car with one tire over the curb and all the lights on. Inside the car, they found a non-student intoxicated on a combination of alcohol and Vicodin. The man told the officers that he didn’t know how he got to Occidental and was trying to get to Glendale. Later, the officers found out that the man had a history of identity theft and prescription drug abuse.

But the majority of the calls the officers get any given night are in regards to students. In this case, Campus Safety officers use their best judgment with each independent incident. If students are discovered violating school rules, policy dictates that a student be “written up.” In the cases where the officers write up students, they routinely hear pleas begging the officers not to write them up. But in terms of getting written up, students control their own fate.

“We’ll give students as much respect as they give us. If they come clean in the beginning when we question them, we’ll reflect that in our reports and it’ll be better for them in the long run. But if they try to lie to us, that’s when we won’t have any tolerance,” said Officer Mourthi.

According to the officers, the most common incidents on campus have had to deal with medical issues related to alcohol abuse. But for the most part, they describe Occidental students as a group of intelligent individuals with good intentions.”I’d see students go back to their dorms at four in the morning after studying in the library and I’d see the same students blowing off some steam on the weekends. It’s something that’s totally understandable. We just want our kids to be safe,” said Officer Mourthi.

Indeed, both Officer Mourthi and Officer Willis see students at Occidental as their own children. Officer Mourthi recounted his first months as a Campus Safety officer. When he first started, he said that he wasn’t emotionally attached to students but gradually he felt connected to them – in the sense that he really has our best interests at heart.

“Girls would introduce their boyfriends to me and the boyfriend would say that meeting me is more intimidating than meeting the girl’s actual dad. It’s because I look out for all my kids here at Oxy,” said Officer Mourthi jokingly, as if he was remembering the facial expression of the exasperated boyfriend.

Their paternal instincts came to their advantage when, last semester, a girl dislocated her knee and the officers were able to comfort her. The officers tell me that students are more willing to comply and receive medical attention if they view officers as helpful friends rather than authoritarian figures.

“We like to create relationships and human connections. The kids at this school have truly become our children,” the officers said.

Throughout the night, students would chat with the officers on a first-name basis. Every time the patrol car drove near a student, nine out of ten times the student would say hello. While passing through Eagle Rock, it was the norm for students to yell, “Hey Charles! Hey Ed! How are your nights?”

10:14 p.m. – The officers and I make a hall check at Bell-Young and Stewie. Even in the first-year dorms, many students already know the officers on a first-name basis. One girl even asked Officer Mourthi and Officer Willis how they felt about her toga for the dance the following night.

They’re more our friends than anything else. My head was spinning. My perception of Campus Safety definitely changed throughout the course of the night. Contrary to what I had thought when I first moved onto campus, the officers are some of the most laid-back people I have met. There were many instances when the two officers earnestly tried to give people the benefit of the doubt. On several occasions, we encountered students who vaguely smelled of alcohol, but the officers didn’t write these students up.

However, for my article, I wanted some intense action. Despite my enthusiasm, this never happened. Throughout the night, the duo reiterated that they never truly want to write students up, but must do it because of policy.

“Our job is to reinforce the policies. We don’t make them up,” stated Officer Willis.

When asked what they do when they see someone who might have consumed alcohol, they answered that unless the student is posing a threat to themselves and/or
others, or has an open bottle of alcohol in their hands, they won’t do anything.

10:56 p.m. – We finally see some activity that looks attention-worthy. There is a car full of seven people in front of Bell-Young. The officers ask the driver and the students in the car to come out so that only five people would be inside. Fifteen minutes later, the same car went over the speed limit in front of the speed bump next to the Hameetman Science Center. Officer Mourthi stopped the car and had his note paper out, ready give the driver a speeding ticket, but decided to let them go.

11:01 p.m. – The two officers stop at the entrance next to the library and begin to block off the opening.

“We had really bad car thieves and many cases of stolen cars on campus a few years ago, especially on weekends,” said the officers.

The administration decided to only have one entrance and exit open after 11 p.m. to reduce the number of car theft incidents. The officers told me that though this procedure is inconvenient for students, closing the entrances is a method that works.

11:46 p.m. – We make another round of entering dorms, but this time, we check those where upperclassmen live. We hear loud music coming from Chilcott. As the officers knocked on the door and asked them to open up, the music died and two lanky sophomores opened the door. Though the smell of alcohol lingered in the room, the bottles were disposed of and the officers gave the students a warning and told them to keep the noise down. As the officers left, the students thanked the officers and reassured that they’d comply.

Officers Mourthi and Willis tell me that 11:30 p.m. through 12:30 p.m. is Occidental’s typical witching hour, when students crawl out of their dorms to look for off-campus social events. This particular Friday, however, lacked drama. My night consisted mainly of sitting in the car with the officers as they drove students back and forth from the Cooler and off-campus houses.

12:37 p.m. – The evening comes to a close. Within my Friday night, I saw the warmth of the individuals whose job is to make Oxy safe. As I left the car, Officer Mourthi and Officer Willis actually apologized to me for the lack of action. They also wished me luck on my first year in college as we shook hands in front of Stewie. By the end of the night, I truly felt like one of their kids.

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