Watcha gonna do?
University police are more than glorified security guards. They fight real crime
University of Nevada police have the same duties as, say, the Reno Police Department, but they’d like you to know up front that they’re separate from the University of Nevada, Reno’s Parking Services, a department that often excites acrimony among students, visitors and faculty.
“We’re separate from those guys,” said Officer Kevin Stein. He’s a young, easy-going Police Officer II, who ranks two steps above a cadet and one below a sergeant.
Most students aren’t exactly knowledgeable about the scope of jurisdiction of the University of Nevada, Reno Police Department (UNRPD).
“Well, they bust up our parties, take our alcohol … and they’re the State,” Lawrence Feif, a sophomore, said.
So goes the stereotypical college student view of authority. But the university police’s duties encompass much more than upsetting alcoholic soirees or kicking minors out of fraternity parties, Officer Stein said.
Last semester, for example, there was a series of car vandalisms and burglaries. March was a busy month for police, as a number of people parked on campus returned to their vehicles to find their windows smashed and goodies, such as CD players, purses, radios and spare car parts, looted. About 25 vehicles were hit.
Putting one of their patrol officers on watch in the Peccole Field parking lot where many of the break-ins were taking place, the officer spotted a Dodge Neon creeping around the parking lot. The man, a white male, would drive for a few yards, stop, get out, and “case” or peer into and around the vehicles.
Campus police stopped the man, a non-student, and searched his car. Bingo.
When crimes occur on campus, the university police have jurisdiction and are first to arrive on the scene. But the UNRPD is also a dual agency and acts first as a self-sufficient entity that performs investigations and handles its own cases from start to finish.
“When it’s our fish, we catch it, we skin it, ” Stein said.
Secondly, the UNRPD’s jurisdiction is not restricted to the campus. University officers have full police powers certified under the laws of the State of Nevada. An inter-local agreement with the Reno Police Department, Sparks Police Department, Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and the Nevada Highway Patrol in the Nevada Revised Statutes authorizes them to exercise their powers of authority off campus when necessary.
“We work hand-in-hand with local law enforcement agencies and are basically an extension of them,” Stein said.
Then why the need for the university to have its own law enforcement team?
“The university’s like a town within a town,” Stein said. “Considering the sheer number of students at UNR, which is around 15,000, add in staff and faculty, and you’ve got quite a community.”
Theft is the most common crime, making up about one-third of the 2003 crime statistics. Alcohol-related offenses—such as driving under the influence, minor in consumption and liquor law violations—ranked second, followed by drug violations and motor vehicle thefts. Sexual offenses numbered at four total. Hate crimes and murder were zero.
The beginning of the Spring 2004 semester was a particularly opportunistic time for backpack theft, and a stream of bag-nabbing went unsolved for a couple weeks.
“The backpacks were just loaded down with new textbooks that we just purchased from the bookstore,” Jon Mayne, a freshman, said. “They stuck out like jeweled thumbs.”
Police performed a sting operation, planting decoy backpacks in the cubbyholes and plainclothes officers on the scene. The thieves took the bait, and police nabbed them.
Since the university has no holding cells, people arrested on campus are taken to the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department on Parr Boulevard, where they are charged and booked.
Staff, faculty and students generally give the on-campus cops good grades, especially when they realize the police aren’t passing out parking tickets.
“When I went to college, everyone heckled campus cops,” Stein said, laughing good-naturedly. “There are days we don’t do anything, and there are days we do a lot.”
With a total of 22 state-sworn police officers in the UNRPD, officers patrol 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The campus police force is expected to grow in the coming years. Officers expect to have 40 sworn officers by 2010.