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2014 Winter Issue 5 (February 14, 2014)

A Night on the Job with Security

February 16, 2014
By Gaston Lopez

One does not simply walk into Sayles 205 at night. This is not only because we don’t know what Sayles 205 is, but also that our OneCards don’t let us in.

Why would they? It is the security office, after all--a sanctum apart from the hustle and bustle of Sayles. I had never walked in the office before, until this past Friday night.

Opening the door expectantly was Randy Atchison, one of the three men who stood post that night. He would be up until 8 a.m. Saturday morning working his shift.

The “sanctum” was like any other office. Decorative pieces  sat on windows and filing cabinets; mugs lay here and there, presumably for the coffee machine. What made the office different were the uniformed officers, and the patches on their upper arms emblazoned with the name “Carleton Security.”

When we entered, Ken (The Carletonian’s seasoned photographer) and I had certain notions about the role of security. New Students Week leaders likely mentioned them informally during discussions about alcohol and drugs, and upperclassmen said similar things--we did not need to worry; campus security was bound to be helpful and not really get us in trouble. Then again, I’d also heard the occasional riff on Security as the force of a party shutdown. So what, I wondered, really was the nature of Security?

The answer to this question soon became clear.

After entering the room, Randy, Ken, and I sat down in the side office, while Chad Drazkowski, another officer on the shift, leaned against the window in the office. Randy explained to us: “If you [a student] were going to call us with something that you were concerned about, we’d actually talk to you directly. There’s no dispatcher, there’s no middle person--which is uncommon, as we understand it, from different schools.”

“Really?” I asked.

“We like it lot, because we can talk directly to the person, find out what’s going on… We can find out quite a bit from a one-minute conversation when somebody’s concerned, and it gives us a sense of how much of an emergency it is, or isn’t,” Randy continued.

Chad added: “Yeah, it’s nice talking to someone who’s actually there. We can see if a student is actually awake or talking… If they tell a dispatcher, then the dispatcher tells us, and if the dispatcher fails to give us an important piece of information that the student told them… you know, it’s just so much nicer [to talk to the student].”
Randy went on: “The only reason they’d call us is because they want help, so they’re not going to give us misinformation intentionally.

“A big part of what we do is build trust with you guys, with the student body, so that those phone calls happen, or if we’re walking by, then somebody can grab us and just say, ‘We need some help here.’ It’s a strong piece of what we try to do, to not set ourselves up as antagonists. The rules aren’t the point. Safety is the point, and rules are a tool, but the point is, the safest campus is the one where you guys take care of each other. And that happens a lot.
(This recurring theme throughout the conversation of the night: trust, safety, and allies).

“You guys are learning choice-making from a standpoint of life. We want to support that process. If we were just running around catching somebody doing something wrong, it would defeat it. That sets us up against you guys instead of being your allies. We’re not perfect – we have to do certain things, but the intended goal is to have the campus as safe as it can, for you to experience as much as you can in a positive way, and the best way to have it happen is a community-sense of helping each other.”

This community is inevitably a temporary one, not to mention insulated, and one can perceive Security’s means as insulation – alliance and safety seem to be awfully exclusive from the adversarial nature of law enforcement beyond campus.

In response to concerns of insulation, Randy went on, “I know the College at times gets accused of being lenient on things, and somebody who has trouble with something gets a second or third chance. It may be different from the real world, but hopefully in the process, there is a boundary, there is some ‘pain’ felt by the person, but not the kind of pain that is irreparable--hopefully the kind of pain that shapes thinking.”

The liberal-arts mentality of a holistic education has become even a part of Security’s philosophy, with the hope of learning from mistakes without causing serious harm to oneself or others. A more concise way of considering the Security point-of-view is the idea of “constructive intervention”. He continues, “A consequence is a healthy thing… you learn how to shape your choice-making.”

As he finished his thoughts, the third officer on duty walked in – it was about 11:00 p.m. and Jim Bushey had just returned from “pre-lock,” a task officers try to do before the major nonresidential buildings lock-up at midnight. Jim had come a long way to the office, having just locked up Cowling Gym, 2nd LDC, Goodsell Observatory, and West Gym.

He noted, “It helps to go out and get as much stuff locked up early. It’s unusual to see three people here [in the office]. There’s usually two, sometimes one... When midnight rolls around and we lock up the entire campus, you’re alone doing it and also answering calls, so it helps to have as much stuff done as we can.” 

Jim has been with campus security for 13 years now.

“The biggest change that I have seen since I started working in 2001 was a group of hall directors who took an active approach... All five of them would take a very proactive approach to the alcohol issues on campus. They turned the student body around, as far as all the drinking that was going on.

When I started, the average party that I would go to on a Friday or Saturday night would have three to four hundred people. They would be in the [Laird] stadium, or in Goodsell House, or Hager House – they’ve been torn down. There were so many people once in Goodsell House that they collapsed the floor there. They used it a couple more years before they tore it down. It used to be where [some rowdy] St. Olaf [students] used to fight here [at Carleton] a few nights, or on the weekends. We’d break up fights.”

Hall directors – or rather, Area Directors, as they are referred to now – have forged a cooperative relationship with Security. As Jim continued, “Generally, at the bottom line, we would do what we need to do. But we haven’t had to do as much as we did back then for years and years… Basically, when the hall directors need help, they call us.”

Changes, furthermore, are not limited to official policies. Students feeling comfortable calling Security for help is, according to Randy, part of  “starting a healthy change or continuing a process that isn’t institutional.”

Then, as we were discussing patrol duty, two telephones went off. One had a slowly undulating up-down tone, and another, a regular pitched ring. Jim and Chad left the room to respond. A minute later, Jim returned, summarizing, “It’s an R.A. There may be marijuana use in Goodhue…”

Without much clamor, the two zipped up their coats and departed, calmly leaving to follow up on the call. They disappeared into the sounds of the pool players and the conversers in the Great Space.

The only officer in the room now, Randy continued his thoughts on changes concerning Security and the campus -- the student body is intelligent, he concluded.

“Monitoring your own activities to keep them reasonable seems like a pretty big deal when it comes to maximizing your own fun. If we get involved, the thing is shut down, the fun stops, and it’s not a good thing for everybody.”

This kind of student body, due to both its size and strengths, has worked well with the small Security force of 8 personnel on campus, unlike Carleton’s peer colleges.  (Bowdoin has 16, Grinnell 18, and Amherst 11). Randy continued, “There’s decision-making reasonableness going on here, not because you have to, but because you choose to.”

At 11:42, the office door opened again, twelve minutes after the call about the suspected marijuana. I figured Jim and Chad had driven the Toyota RAV4 that Security uses for faster responses on campus. In the past, it was also occasionaly used to transport students to the hospital. This continued until questions were raised concerning the need for the vehicle to respond to more immediate incidents on campus, which would not be possibly if it was off-campus.

“How was the call?” I asked.

“Nothing” they both said.

Chad continued, “Couldn’t smell a thing, which is fine,” to which Randy added, “If we don’t smell something in the area, we don’t do anything. No, we’re not knocking on doors, like, c’mon!” He chuckled the prospect off as an inconceivable thing. Privacy was paramount. In his parlance, Chad called this a UTL: “unable to locate.” Or rather, a UTLGOA: “unable to locate, gone on arrival.”

The three officers split up at about midnight. It was time for lock-up. Ken and I accompanied Randy on his side of campus, locking up the buildings on the western front.
“From a standpoint of being cold, it’s just a nuisance,” he said. “We just do what we have to do, and if we’re cold, we go to a building!”

After locking up Willis and Scoville – nobody was in the buildings – we walked into the SHAC office, where Randy also had to check on an alarm system. “The alarm was set properly, but the door was not locked,” he told us. He had checked earlier and discovered that the door had been pushed open, even though the alarm blared a softly shrill pitch inside. “Every door has a personality,” he observed. “It shuts on its own or not.”

Next he checked the doors in Johnson House– home to the Admissions Office, explaining,“If there is a sensitive area on campus, it’s the Admissions areas.”

We walked into the main waiting reception area, where all the curtains were drawn, and only one emergency light shined on the reception desk. It was the site of theft this past year.

We asked Randy about the issue of surveillance on campus. He did not say much as he locked various doors. But what he did say was that surveillance cameras were increasing throughout campus. “I think it’s coming,” he commented. These were cameras that were not monitored actively, as we later learned, but were looked at as needed from the office.

Before we left, Randy had to arm the building, which meant that Ken and I had to look away as he punched in the arming code. And that was all.

The evening was not eventful. There was no new news upon returning to the Sayles office, but this provided a good moment to continue the conversation we’d been having before lock-up.

Although not always plainly exciting, these night shifts have their own awkward, ans yet, amusing moments. Randy recounted a phone call he once received:

“It was a weekend night, with a lot of noise in the back. [The caller] said, ‘There’s a mouse in my room!’ I said, ‘Okay, what are you going to do about it?’ He said, ‘That’s why I’m calling you!’ ‘We’re not the mouse exterminators. Are you in your room?’ ‘No! I’m in the hall, are you kidding?!’ ‘Is there anyone else watching you right now that might make you embarrassed about yelling at me on the phone?’ ‘Well, yeah…’ ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Would somebody be impressed by how tough you are if you took care of it?’

He said, ‘Well, maybe!’…”

The night wore on. We continued to chat about things off-duty. All the conversation – in fact, the entire night’s conversations, from pre-Carleton life, to old stories or on-job experiences –  revealed that these officers, despite their moments of urgency and their separate jobs, are very much a part of the campus community. Though from different walks of life, with different experiences, they’ve all been brought to this unexpected place. (See inset for more details).

Yet the officers choose not to ascribe themselves as contributors to the community. They talk more of those whom they make it safe and possible for: the students.
Randy: “I wouldn’t enjoy this [as much] if I worked during the day… there’s interesting people all over the place here at night… [Students] all have cool stories, and it’s fun to have a minute or two to get to hear them.”  These officers, moreover, hold themselves in a distinctive relationship with the student body, unlike other places.

As Jim puts it, “This place is unique, so why can’t we be?”

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