Sharing the burden

With the public calling for more police downtown, city may turn to UPD for help

Several community members and the city’s police chief would like to see University Police Department officers proactively patrolling parts of downtown.

Several community members and the city’s police chief would like to see University Police Department officers proactively patrolling parts of downtown.

PHOTO BY Brittany Waterstradt

In light of the Chico Police Department’s well-documented struggles to reign in crime and deal with downtown transient issues, Police Chief Kirk Trostle recently proposed that Chico State expand the role of its police department.

As first reported by the CN&R last week, in a letter addressed to Chico State President Paul Zingg dated Oct. 16, Trostle pushes for a revision to the Joint Public Safety Agreement between the Chico PD and university police. The letter was prompted by a plea for action sent to the Chico City Council by Gina McCammon, human resources director at the Chico State Research Foundation. By Trostle’s account, McCammon said she feels increasingly unsafe going to and from her workplace downtown.

Trostle wrote that McCammon had described “daily interactions with mentally unstable transient adults, homeless people sleeping by the creek, employees being yelled at walking to and from their cars, [urination] on the university’s building directly in front of an employees’ window, [and people] selling drugs to Chico High [School] students and yelling at street signs in the parking lot.”

Trostle proposed that Zingg direct the University Police Department—which has a working force of 14 officers who rotate in patrolling the campus 24 hours a day—to proactively police areas within one mile of university property, thereby answering the public’s call for an increased enforcement presence downtown.

Some community members are backing the idea, including Lupe Arim-Law, who recently campaigned for City Council, and Tom Nickell, a former City Council member and retired California Highway Patrol officer.

During a recent interview, Arim-Law said that since the city isn’t in a financial position to consider hiring more police officers, turning to UPD “seems like common sense, just a no-brainer.”

Nickell is also adamant that UPD’s role should be expanded, particularly since areas within one mile of campus would include the south campus neighborhood, where, nearly every weekend, problems associated with parties put a strain on Chico PD’s resources.

“Chico State has to take responsibility for the actions in the college area,” Nickell said. “That would allow the city to bring police back to downtown.”

In 2006, following the hazing death of a Chico State fraternity member the year before, the two police departments formally defined their responsibilities as per the Kristin Smart Campus Act of 1998, which requires campus and local police departments to establish jurisdictional boundaries in writing.

Under the current Joint Public Safety Agreement, last updated in 2009, Chico PD has primary jurisdiction over all law enforcement services within city limits, while UPD oversees campus and properties owned or leased by Chico State, such as the University Farm, and is also the first responder to recognized fraternities and sororities.

Over the past few years, the working relationship between the two departments has gotten stronger, said University Police Chief Robyn Hearne.

“There was a time when the Chico State police department concentrated only on the campus and that was it, and I think that’s how the city wanted it at that point,” she said. “But that’s changed a lot. We routinely get calls from Chico police to assist their officers on calls, provide backup, or handle calls they can’t get to.”

The support goes both ways, Hearne said. “They’ve shown up and backed our officers many times as well. We work together every day and every night.”

Expanding the role of UPD within the community is a concept that’s been kicked around at least since 1999, when then-Police Chief Michael Efford said in an interview with the CN&R that he wished the UPD would become more involved off campus.

And other, similar universities in California, such as UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz, have directed campus police to patrol their surrounding communities. George Hughes, chief of police at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, said in an email that “we proactively patrol and enforce crimes within the one-mile radius off campus and within the city of San Luis Obispo.” Hughes added that the patrols are well-received by the community “as we all work together to address public disorder crimes.”

The key word is “proactively.” While Chico State police officers have the authority to address crimes they see off campus, they don’t have explicit instructions to patrol downtown or the south campus neighborhood. As Hearne put it, ensuring the safety of the 2,200 students who live on campus and protecting properties affiliated with the university is her staff’s top priority.

It remains to be seen whether anything will come of Trostle’s letter, which requested a meeting between university and city administration regarding amendments to the Joint Public Safety Agreement within two weeks. As of Nov. 3, the two parties had yet to meet, Zingg said in an email.

The memorandum is amended every few years, Hearne said, accounting for Greek organizations no longer recognized by the university or any properties purchased or sold since the last update. The current agreement is valid until Dec. 31.

Nickell, for one, hopes the next round of amendments will include Trostle’s recommendation.

“Fact is, we’re in tough times,” he said. “Let’s get some help in here, pool resources and focus on downtown until we can get the city’s financial situation together. We’re a community, and Chico State is part of the community.”