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Profile: Campus Watch Volunteers Make UC A Safer Place

Date: Jan. 29, 2001
Story and photos by: Carey Hoffman
Archive: Profiles Archive

When darkness descended on the University of Cincinnati one recent evening, students Walter Brown and Michael Ott headed out looking for trouble. Not to cause it, but to deter it.

Ott and Brown are part of a 10-member team called Campus Watch, organized by UC Police as part of an overall strategy to create a safer university. Every evening, Campus Watch members patrol UC streets, walkways, buildings, parking lots and garages.

Brown and Ott patrol French Hall

They become additional eyes and ears for the campus security effort. They don't intervent themselves but use portable radios to instantly relay information to UC police and dispatchers. "If they come across a disturbance or find something open that shouldn't be open, it's their job then to call our officers," says Bob Rohrbach, UC assistant police chief.

For Ott and Brown, there's an additional benefit. As students in UC's criminal justice program, they are in jobs that provide valuable practical experience for their future careers in law enforcement. "It's good to be involved at the school you are at and, at the same time, help gain experience for later in life," says Ott.

Brown and Ott have much in common in their backgrounds. Both are graduates of Sycamore High School in suburban Cincinnati. Ott, a junior, and Brown, a sophomore, both play in the saxophone section of the UC Marching Band. And both are finding a rewarding experience through their involvement in Campus Watch.

"I was interested in being a police officer and then I had a friend tell me to apply (for Campus Watch)," Brown says. He has gotten a thorough introduction into the realities of police work.

UC Police Lieutenant John Engel, who oversees Campus Watch, says the department takes training the Campus Watch participants just as seriously as the training it gives its other employees.

Brown and Ott prepare for duty

They are taught about methods of patrol, police radio procedure, proper report methods and courtroom demeanor. (In just 10 months in Campus Watch, Ott has already been called to testify in court twice about things he has witnessed on the job). They are shown what to look for and also how to stay out of harm's way in doing their job.

Campus Watch members carry no weapons and are never involved in detaining or arresting suspects. They come to work, are given a briefing where they review recent crime incident reports just like UC police officers do, and then are sent out to do their jobs.

"Part of their effectiveness is just being seen," Engel says. "Visibility is a big factor for us. And we teach them how to be systematically unsystematic, to mix what they do up so they never can be counted on to be in a routine."

Much of the work can be mundane, but valuable arrests do sometimes result from Campus Watch efforts, particularly when it comes to individuals coming on campus to steal - property crime is by far the biggest problem UC Police have to deal with. The most serious incident Engel can recall Campus Watch assisting with happened several years ago, where Campus Watch participants witnessed an abduction. They radioed the information to the police, who successfully stopped the car involved and rescued the person being abducted.

A majority - but not all - Campus Watch participants come from the criminal justice program. (One current member, Angel Caskey, is a biology major who hopes to go to medical school). Many have gone on to professional service, including positions with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Cincinnati Police, Clermont County Sheriff's Office and the UC security staff that operates in conjunction with UC Police.

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