Story by KEVIN LYON, for The Muleskinner
The tuition bill students see at the beginning of every semester goes for everything from repaving roads on campus, to drugs dogs in dorms, to the UCM police force that patrols the campus day and night. A big part of what UCM is as a campus is contained inside Public Safety.
Public Safety has four main divisions, which are police, parking, environmental health and safety and access control. The police division contains 18 full-time police officers and is the largest segment of Public Safety.
It also includes the Student Assistant Foot patrol and Escort Team (SAFE) who are part-time, uniformed, student employees who patrol the campus on foot at night to help deter crime and provide a walking escort from building exit to building entrance or parking areas for students, faculty, staff, and visitors.
The parking division takes care of roads and parking lots, from paving them to policing them for parking violations and abandoned vehicles. The environmental health and safety division makes sure that all UCM buildings and other facilities are up to code, taking care of everything from asbestos contamination to possible disease outbreaks, with all the plans for controlling the campus if anything out of the ordinary happens.
The access control division is the part of public safety that deals with keys, including everything from a lost dorm room key to a key ring for a custodian. Within these four departments, there are 58 full-time workers who, along with a student staff that does everything from covering dispatches at the Public Safety office to patrolling as part of the SAFE Team, keep the campus safe for students and workers.
“There is a lot of stuff that we do,” said Kim Vansell, director of Public Safety. Vansell has worked at UCM for 28 years, starting as a dispatcher while she was a student and advancing on to being a police officer at 21.
She spent 15 years as evening supervisor on the Wednesday to Saturday shift, which gave her plenty of opportunities to meet the students that she was hired to protect and serve. “That’s right when all the parties happen,” she said with a laugh. “You go out quite a bit.”
Vansell said she is proud of what the campus has done to affect crime while she has worked here. “I think that what you have at this campus is something you don’t have at all campuses.” she said. “Because the community and the students all really care about what is going on. The whole community is concerned, and we are always supported.”
Most of what Vansell and the other police officers deal with is petty crime, including underaged drinking and small thefts. Bigger crimes, like the rash of catalytic converter thefts last spring, are also part of what the 18 full-time officers cover. “What we do a really good job of here is making sure that people report crimes,” Vansell said. “Crime doesn’t disappear, but we think we do a pretty good job of keeping it under control.”
After nearly 30 years working at UCM, Vansell has many stories to tell. “When it comes to dumb criminals, it gets hard to follow,” she said with a laugh. She said a personal favorite is when police bust a party, and extremely drunk people ask them to move their squad cars so they can drive their own vehicles home. “It just stops you right in your tracks,” Vansell said.
Beyond policing, one of the major areas that Public Safety is concerned with is parking. Scott Rhoad, police sergeant in Parking Services, said that they don’t just sell permits and give tickets. “We do everything from collecting trash, checking lighting, setting up emergency phones, shoveling snow, repaving and cleaning the lots, to finding dumped cars that are just left in lots and towing them away,” Rhoad said.
Rhoad has been working for UCM both as a police officer and as a parking sergeant for 25 years. One of the things he said he is most proud of is permits, and what UCM has managed to do with them since the Internet became widely available.
“Ten years ago, there was a line that wound around the building for the first week of people wanting to get their parking permits,” he said. “This year there were never more than four people in a line waiting for permits, and it never took them more than 10 minutes to get through the line.”
Most permits are now sold online, and are shipped to students before school starts, so they don’t have to worry about waiting in a line. “The technology that we use helps us do so many things,” Rhoads said. “It’s changed everything.”
“There are also no quotas,” Rhoad said with a laugh. “We don’t have any targets or anything, and the tickets aren’t a way for us to raise revenue.” Both parking and policing have been revolutionized by computer databases, cell phones and digital tracking of things like permits and IDs.
Rhoad emphasized that what they do with parking is make sure that those who pay for parking passes aren’t being ripped off by the school. “If you see someone without a permit parked on a lot,” he said, “that’s something where a person who is paying should be there. They don’t belong in that spot, and if you have ever paid for a permit, you can understand why we have to stop that.”
Rhoad said he sees parking as the first impression that people see when they come to UCM, and making a good first impression is crucial to keeping UCM alive. “When we do a good job, you don’t even notice it,” he said, “but if we ever mess up, it’s enormous. Everything we do here helps make it easier for everyone at UCM.”
Every department plays a role, and each one costs money. “You lose a key, access control rekeys your room for you,” Vansell said. “Rekeying a whole building, if we lose the keys for that, costs quite a bit more.” Garbage collection, building up-keep, crime control and all the things that people expect to happen, are run by Public Safety.
“We’re only part of this community,” Vansell said. “We’re really lucky that this is a campus where people are really behind us. They don’t always like us, especially when we are talking to them, but they understand what we do. You don’t get that at every college.”
For more information, visit ucmo.edu/ps.