News editor is passenger on UTPD patrol
I thought years of crime-drama television had prepared me for high speed chases, “freeze dirt bag” and arrests where the suspect resisted and was subsequently thrown onto the hood of a car and cuffed.
But when I went on a ride-along with the UT police department I learned TV is not the most accurate source of information.
Sgt. Keith Lane took me on the third-shift ride-along, starting at 10:30 p.m.
Lane has been with UTPD for nine years, and said in that time he has seen many changes to the physical property of UT.
“It’s changed a lot,” Lane said. “Everything south of the railroad tracks used to be a neighborhood.”
The night started off quiet, with the first call from dispatch asking Lane to let a faculty member into the Center for Performing Arts. Lane pulled out a large ring of keys and laughed when I asked in a star-struck voice if he had the master key to the university – he does.
After letting the professor into his office at the CPA, we went to Lane’s “favorite spot” on campus to catch speeders.
“College kids like to drink and get rowdy, and criminals like to come here and take their stuff,” Lane said as we waited. “The biggest problem on campus is theft.”
As far as how to prevent theft, Lane said the officers always tell students not to leave anything in their car they want to keep.
Chief of police John Dauer agreed.
“Theft is probably the biggest crime on any campus, and [UT is] included in that unfortunately,” he said.
Lane showed off some of the squad car’s technology, including an in-car computer system called a Mobile Data Terminal, which allows officers to run license plates, driver’s licenses and has an Instant Messenger feature so officers can communicate with each other.
When results from the license plate and driver’s license search pop up on the MDT, Lane said he can see “anything anyone has ever done.”
After about 20 minutes of waiting in “the spot,” Lane used his radar gun to clock a car going 38 miles per hour in a 25 MPH zone. He flipped the lights on and pulled the car over.
After talking to the 20-year-old male he pulled over, Lane decided to give him sobriety and Breathalyzer tests from the portable device. The suspect insisted he had not been drinking, so Lane took him to Ottawa Hills police department to perform another Breathalyzer test on him.
At the OHPD, the suspect blew a 0.076, slightly under the legal limit of 0.08. Because the suspect was under 21, any amount of alcohol that registers on the machine is a DUI.
Some of the officers I had talked to said they try to be mentors or educators to student who find themselves in trouble.
“Use this as a learning experience,” Lane told the suspect. “Don’t do this again. Next time, tell me you were drinking; don’t lie.”
Dauer said the UTPD officer’s job is not just enforcing the law.
“It’s part of the job to educate the students,” he said.
“A lot of people think it’s the end of their lives when they get in trouble, but it’s just a learning experience,” he said.
Being educated themselves helps the officers educate the students.
Dauer said most of UTPD’s officers have bachelor’s degrees.
“We are a pretty highly educated department,” he said. All officers are required to have at least an associate’s degree, Dauer said.
Throughout the night of my ride-along, I noticed many of the officers had an optimistic and upbeat attitude, which Dauer attributes to working on a college campus.
“[At UT] we get to deal with the good side as well,” he said. “That keeps our sanity intact.”
The last call I went on with Lane showed the hard part of police work.
A woman had called the police department with a report that her cousin was in the Academic House, possibly being sexually assaulted, though the victim did not know where in the A-House she was.
Lane and another UT police officer responded to the call. Lane said earlier in the night that the best part of his job was helping students, but in this case it was not possible.
The officers and a worker at A-House combed each floor, but did not hear any suspicious noises. Lane told the students working at the A-House’s front desk to call if they heard or saw anything.
At 4 a.m. I decided to call it a night, though Lane and the other officers working that night were just taking their dinner break.
Overall, I was impressed with the officers’ compassion and passion for helping students.
“We’re still a safe campus,” Dauer said. “We try to educate the campus community on how to help themselves.”