It was 10 p.m. on a typical Saturday night as we strolled down High Street, past packs of giddy freshmen swarming Beta and Eclectic. But not us. We were headed to the office of Public Safety (PSafe).
Our mission was simple: to observe firsthand the routine of a Public Safety officer.
Lieutenant Tom Harrington made us sign two waivers. One had us promise not to sue the University if we died. The other was a confidentiality agreement.
“I want to make sure you’re safe,” he said. “That’s our goal here.”
Harrington proceeded to tell us about Public Safety’s variety of responsibilities. From locked doors to noise complaints to fire alarms, Public Safety handles them all.
Unsurprisingly, the weekend is the busiest for PSafe.
“The campus is much different once the sun goes down,” Harrington said. “You see 50 people out there in the backyard, and they’re not telling ghost stories.”
PSafe keeps track of the events going on each day using a log of all registered campus events, which is usually six to 12 pages long.
“That’s our bible,” Harrington said, handing us a copy of the most recent log.
At that moment, Harrington got a call on his walkie-talkie from an officer making rounds in the field.
“Where is the Grotto located at Alpha Delt?” the officer asked.
The two of us smiled. These officers clearly knew what was going down that night. But, as all students know, the big scheduled parties are just part of any given night of raucous partying.
“There is no typical shift,” he said. “That’s the best thing about this job.”
We would soon witness this ourselves. We met up with Officer Burdick, who has been working at Wesleyan for five years.
Before she began her shift, Burdick explained that PSafe officers are not out to “get” students. They seek, above all, to understand what’s going on, to make sure everything is under control.
“We have our good days and we have our bad days,” Burdick said. “But it’s not our objective to ruin anybody’s night.”
With that, we clambered into the car with her and began making the rounds. After just five minutes, we got our first taste of action: a call about suspicious characters near WestCo.
Within seconds, Officer Burdick parked the car, jumped out of the driver’s seat, and ran down the street. We struggled to catch up with her as she sprinted down Church towards Neon Deli, keeping tabs with a fellow officer on her walkie-talkie.
“Shit’s gettin’ real!” a passerby yelled after us.
After the officers located and spoke with the suspicious personages, we got back in the car to respond to a noise complaint on High Street.
On the way there, Burdick told us about the Resident Officer program. The program, which started four years ago, was designed to increase communication between students and PSafe. Burdick said the program has been extremely effective in creating a better relationship with the student body.
The call from WestCo about suspicious people, for instance, was made by a student.
“It’s good that students are being proactive and calling in suspicious people,” Burdick said.
Office Burdick parked the car on High Street, and we awkwardly followed her as she approached the people in the backyard. She greeted them nicely, paving the way for an interaction of mutual respect. They settled the issue calmly.
After that, it was time to check out some dorm buildings. We walked the halls of Clark, where nothing of note was happening. As we drove down to Lo Rise, Burdich reaffirmed Public Safety’s emphasis on mutual respect.
“I have two kids of my own,” she said. “I treat students the way I’d want my two kids treated.”
As soon as we pulled into LoRise, we caught sight of a young fellow who was…unwell. Officer Burdick approached him. She saw that he was intoxicated and informed him that he would have to be taken to the hospital. He protested, but Burdick was firm.
“I’m here to help you, not to work against you,” she explained.
An ambulance pulled up, and he was guided safely, albeit unwillingly, inside its doors.
Officer Burdick, along with another officer who had just come in for backup, entered the LoRise apartment where the party was taking place. They re-emerged after a few minutes, carrying a keg between them.
“You’d better drink that!” a student yelled after them.
Ignoring the student, Burdick turned towards her fellow officer.
“Do you know if the Yankees won?” she asked.