University police cope with revelry over the weekend

It was 10:30 p.m., and the staff at Whitney Hall were already calling University Police to check to see if a student was drunk. Sgt. David Bird said he was hoping the weekend party scene would be rained out.

The Orion joined Bird last Friday as part of the University Police Department’s Ride-Along program to see what the weekend graveyard shift is like for officers.

“The goal for tonight is to make sure all the students survive,” Bird said in an interview before the ride. “That they get home and live through the night.”

Residence Halls

Friday night’s alcohol-infused antics hit Chico earlier than usual, with staff members at dormitories asking University Police to conduct sobriety tests on students before the evening’s peak hours.

A student at Whitney Hall, underage and struggling to stand, was arrested and taken away to sober up.

Whitney, Sutter, Shasta, and Lassen, the largest residence halls, house more than 2,500 freshmen. This is where University Police see much of the action, Bird said.

“If I had a magic button to stop everyone from drinking under the age of 21, I’d press it,” Bird said.

From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Bird and three other graveyard shift officers scouted the campus and surrounding properties to gauge where potential problem areas were developing.

From 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., Bird and the officers reacted to emergencies as the drinks multiplied. Public intoxication, fights and assaults are the most common arrests made by University Police, Bird said. The common thread often shared between those crimes is alcohol consumption.

After responding to the Whitney Hall alcohol violation, Bird drove to the heart of the party scene, Ivy Street, and the neighborhoods nearby.

South Campus

Crowds packed the sidewalks outside of Riley’s and Frankie’s Friday night. Robotic dubstep beats, multi-colored strobe lights and liquor breath congested the senses along First and Ivy streets.

Many of the pedestrians greeted Bird kindly, while others spouted vulgarities and police siren impressions from their porches.

Despite a few bad apples, the department enjoys a great rapport with Chico students, Bird said.

“We appear as something that someone thinks we’re supposed to be,” Bird said. “Robots writing tickets, going out there and doing good. We’re absolutely natural human beings, and we care.”

By 11 p.m., staff at Shasta Hall called police in to perform a sobriety test.

It takes two officers to perform these tests. And with only four officers on patrol, half of University Police’s patrol becomes occupied, making crime prevention throughout the night a greater challenge.

“There’s no way to stop everything that’s going on,” Bird said.

University Police works closely with the Chico Police Department, sharing jurisdictions and calls. Officers will also occasionally ride together in one vehicle.
Chico Police Department has recently undergone budget cuts while the city crime rate has risen. But no cuts to University Police are planned. The force will soon be expanding with a new hire in the coming weeks, Bird said.

Dangerous journey home

Many dangerous neighborhoods surround campus, including portions of Columbus Avenue and the Chapmantown neighborhood, Bird said. Residents from those areas will often travel to busy intersections like Ivy and Third streets on the weekends, heightening dangers for students.

Light rain ended the night early for many students who took Ivy Street back to campus.

Bird recommended freshman walking back to the residence halls use the center areas of campus. Kendall Hall and the University Police Department are among the safest and most well-lit areas to cross through.

Darker, narrower routes should be avoided, like the bike path on West Sacramento Avenue, a “natural funnel” for students heading back to University Village.

By 2 a.m., University Police were conducting clean up, looking after all of the students and city residents scattering from bars and treading home.

For those too intoxicated to walk or drive home, taxis, pedicabs and the campus shuttle are all cheaper alternatives than risking a DUI, Bird said.

Bird said his job isn’t about making as many arrests as possible.

“People are here to learn,” Bird said. “Sometimes a warning could help and go a lot further along with that individual person than a citation. We don’t want to hurt their education here on campus.”

A Chico State alumnus, Bird said he always wanted to be a police officer. He applied for a Community Service Officer position while he was still a student. The University Police Department has been the only institution he has worked for.

“I’ve never left, and I never want to leave,” Bird said.

 

Mozes Zarate can be reached at [email protected] or @mzarate139 on Twitter.