On patrol with the CSOs

Student officers provide valuable assistance to university police

Caleb King might write you a parking ticket, but don’t take it personally.

Caleb King might write you a parking ticket, but don’t take it personally.

Caleb King has worked at Chico State’s University Police Department since 2007, but not as a police officer. He’s a graduate student pursuing his master’s degree in public administration, and he’s also a community service officer.

CSOs are not sworn peace officers; they don’t carry guns, and they deal with only “non-hazardous law enforcement services,” as King put it. Even so, the UPD is reliant upon these officers, who do everything from bike registration and running the Campus Connection safety shuttle to helping with presentations at the Freshmen Safe Start orientations.

This week is the busiest time of year for the 11 students who currently serve as CSOs.

Indeed, the officers have to be ready to deal with the “unique challenges” that are present on the Chico State campus during the weekend evenings, said UPD Sgt. Corinne Beck, who’s in charge of their scheduling and general supervision.

King, 25, said there are “tons of funny stories” of how people behave under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and his job is definitely not for the timid. He has seen people who can barely walk due to high levels of intoxication and try to run away once they see someone in uniform. CSOs wear light-blue uniforms, as opposed to the dark-blue ones worn by sworn police officers, but most students don’t know the difference.

“I don’t have any special privileges or authorities over any other student or person,” King said. “In reality, I am the same as everyone else.”

He understands how a person in uniform can be intimidating, but King just wants to be viewed as someone there to help others and keep students safe. To that end, he wishes more students would use the Campus Connection shuttle, which carries them between 6 p.m. and midnight to various campus locations.

Beck said the CSOs were very involved in developing new plans for the service, since they are the ones driving it every day. Instead of heading out to students calling to get picked up from a specific location, the shuttle will be more like a bus-stop system. The hope is that this will prevent the shuttle from being abused, as it was in the past, by people calling for rides and then asking to be dropped off on parts of campus close to the bars.

“It’s not a party bus,” Beck said.

The shuttle is to assist people who are pursuing academic interests, like studying late at the library or attending evening classes and don’t want to walk alone to places like the parking garage or residence halls.

King originally heard about the job opening from his uncle, who works on campus and was monitoring the online postings. He has worked his way up from rookie CSO to field training officer and is now responsible for helping train new hires, making the schedules each week and attending community presentations with Beck, which gives him even more public-service experience. King thinks the skills he is learning from the job are invaluable. He’s gained more confidence in confrontational situations, for example, and dealt with a large amount of responsibility.

These experiences will help King pursue his ambitions of working in public service, possibly in emergency response, putting away dangerous criminals or helping victims of international disaster.

“We’ll see where life takes me,” he said.

The department focuses on being proactive in its efforts, King said. This means patrolling problem areas, looking for ways to prevent bad things from happening or catching them in progress. CSOs patrol campus at night to make sure no one is “behaving illegally,” and that campus is secured, such as locking all buildings on weekends when the custodial staff isn’t present.

In many ways, being a CSO is a social job. King enjoys getting to meet and talk with people who come in for LiveScans, a digital finger-printing service for background checks, or those riding the campus shuttles.

However, people aren’t always too kind when he’s doing parking enforcement.

King said people can become “absolutely irate” when issued a parking citation. He’s had to grow a thicker skin over the years as a result.

“There’s no part of me that enjoys ruining someone’s day,” said King, who acknowledged some people are rude to him for no apparent reason other than a general dislike of law enforcement.

Beck said King and the other CSOs are hired through a very selective process including extensive background checks. They then go through training in radio codes and defensive driving, and also learn how to be the “eyes and ears” of the UPD on campus. The officers must be versed in campus locations, services offered and general knowledge to help out the students, staff and faculty, as well as campus visitors.

Their work is incredibly varied and is an integral part of what UPD does, Beck said. For instance, if Beck is giving a presentation to freshmen on campus safety and has to respond to a radio call, CSOs are able to stand in for her.

Yet, school is always the No. 1 priority for the officers. Even though many of them are very dedicated and would rather be working than attending class, Beck said UPD helps them prioritize and keep track of their schedules.

“School, job, then their social life,” she said.