UWPD prioritizes police safety escort

(Photo by William Wise) Students commonly cross campus after dark. Emergency lights and call buttons provide both light and the opportunity for students to call law enforcement if they feel in danger.

UW offers a police safety escort to individuals on campus, but its availability is not always consistent.

A staff member of the Branding Iron called the safety escort on Nov.17, waited 10 minutes for the officer to arrive and then was delivered to her destination. The officer chatted with the staff member, drove to the front door of her residence and did not leave until she was inside. Since the service worked the first time, the staff member called again on Nov. 30 and was informed that the safety escort was in fact a courtesy service and due to being shorthanded, a ride could not be provided.

“We do not consider that service a courtesy,” Vice President of Student Affairs Sean Blackburn said.

President Laurie Nichols said, “That’s not my understanding [of the safety escort] either.  So then in fact we do need to either change that, or we need to better explain what it is that the university police can provide to students. I think what I’ll have to say is that I’ll take that under advisement and we’ll have to work on that and get that clarified and or expand that service.”

According to UWPD, the police safety escort is set up for any student at any time they feel unsafe.

UW Chief of Police Michael Samp said, “[The service can be used] anytime somebody has an issue. In a typical year, we see less than 10 students use the safety escort service. Occasionally students find themselves in a situation where they have a bad breakup, they have a perceived stalker, a domestic violence protection order, something to that extent and they are welcome to call our dispatch line.”

When asked to confirm details about the safety service and respond to the lack of aid given to the student, Samp said that the time of the call occurred between afternoon and evening shifts and that there was only one officer on duty at the time.

“It’s a service that we offer, but it’s not very often utilized on our campus,” Samp said. “So we confirmed that we did have one person on shift and he was involved in a follow up investigation and an interview, so that part was right. The part that wasn’t right was the fact that the dispatcher didn’t assist in getting that escort set up.”

On the UWPD website, the availability of the service is not listed, it’s advertised as accessible to students.

“Again, it’s not something we solicit,” Samp said. “We let our students know that the service is available, but again it’s utilized very little in a typical calendar year. Students are welcome to call, but typically they don’t use that service very often.”

Samp confirmed that dispatchers should ensure students’ safety before ending the call.

“What should have happened is that even though we were busy, [the dispatcher] should have made arrangements to let that person, in this particular case it was a reporter, I’m guessing it was not an actual need for an escort, but if it were an actual escort that person should have been notified that we will get someone there as soon as we can to provide that service,” Samp said.

The Branding Iron staff member did not indicate her status as a reporter when she made the request for the safety escort. When asked how UWPD classifies emergencies, Samp replied:

“We are going to prioritize. Had that been an actual emergency, the officer that was involved in the interview would have been notified of the emergency and he would have concluded his interview and responded to the emergency. Certainly, a safety escort may rise to that level depending on the information that’s shared by the person involved.”

Samp also states that the call volume at the department varies from day to day, but typically there is more than one officer on duty at any given time.

“Had that been half an hour later, we would have had security staff on staff and they would have been able to assist,” said Samp.

In relation to the lack of other campus resources being provided to the staff member at the time of her call, Samp said that the personnel issue has already been addressed with the staff of UWPD.

“I think it’s important that all of our employees are trained so that they can perform their position adequately, if that’s not the case over there, then we need to take that seriously and certainly improve training so that dispatchers are a) knowledgeable and b) know how to respond to questions or requests when they come in,” said Nichols. “So I need to [get] back to Chief Samp and make sure we are getting the appropriate information to dispatchers and the appropriate training to them as well.”

The dispatch line for UWPD is 307-766-5179, and is located on the back of every students’ WyoOne ID card.

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