*Editor’s note: The acronym CSO stands for campus service officer, not “campus security officer,” as inaccurately reported in the Monday, Sept. 21 edition of the Collegian. The Collegian regrets this error.
The golden glow of a street lamp shown down on the intersection of Plum and Shields Streets Thursday, illuminating Alison McCoy and Krista Richardson as they stood waiting, hands in pockets, for the crosswalk light to change while shepherding a fellow CSU student home.
*Before Thursday night, the two student campus service officers had never met this student, and yet, they walked with her from Moby Arena to her apartment, about two blocks west of campus, talking about classes, their social lives and mothers who worry too much about their kids.
“When we were in our CSO academy they told us to, you know, talk to them and to make them feel comfortable. We don’t want it to be an awkward walk,” McCoy, a junior human development and family studies major, said.
Upon reaching Moby, Richardson had spotted the client, a CSU student in a yellow shirt, and approached her, asking her name and initiating a conversation. Using her two-way radio she then reported back to CSU Police Department’s dispatch center to let them know the SafeWalk had begun.
The walk ended when the student gestured to her home and disappeared in between the cars in a parking lot. For about 30 seconds after, McCoy and Richardson stopped and checked the area to make sure it was safe before returning to campus.
This chaperoned walk home, available to students living on or close to campus, is requested about once or twice a night or 150 to 200 times per year.
A need for the SafeWalk program was suggested to the university by the student government president in 1992 and implemented a year later. Today, 19 CSOs, including the team’s leaders McCoy and Richardson, continue the service of helping their fellow students.
“This job is really people-centered. You meet people all the time; you get to interact with people and I think that’s why a lot of us (CSOs) like it,” McCoy said.
Students who need a SafeWalk can request one, during the fall and spring semesters, from dusk until 1 a.m. by either calling (970) 491-1155 or pressing the button on one of the 43 blue light call boxes located around campus. The call boxes also call 911 in the case of an emergency.
“When you are walking with a SafeWalk person, you are walking with someone who’s been trained to keep you safe, you are walking with a person who is CPR certified, you are walking with someone who knows the campus, ” Richardson, armed with a flashlight and mace, said. “You are walking with someone who has a direct line to the police department.”
Several students said they appreciate the SafeWalk service and the CSO’s visibility on campus.
“I think it’s good that the SafeWalk personnel wear bright yellow,” said Brandon Little, a junior political science and economics double major. “They are very visible and I notice that a lot of residents respect their presence.”
What is a CSO?
After SafeWalk was established, the CSO position developed when the police department and the university realized a need for a larger security presence across campus.
Calling them the “eyes and ears for the police department,” Cpl. Scott Anthony, director of the CSO program and a crime prevention officer, said the student officers hold multiple contracts with Housing and Dining Services and the library, among others.
CSOs are not fully-fledged police officers but patrol the entire campus, including the University Village and International House apartment complexes west of campus. They help to close the library at night and serve as additional security during CSU events.
Richardson said the life of a CSO is made easier because they are not actually officers.
“We are not the police and a lot of people realize that so they are really cool to us,” she said.
And though they are not the police, Anthony said they represent the department and call in officers when needed.
“CSOs are not the police, they don’t enforce the law, they don’t have a commission . they can’t enforce if there’s an issue,” Scott said. “All they can do is be a good witness, give good direction and call in accurate information.”
Richardson said in the case of a confrontation, each of the CSOs is trained to get away and use their “most important tool,” their radio, to contact the police officers.
“Our defense training isn’t like ‘I’m going to kick your butt.’ No, it’s just to disengage,” she said.
Both McCoy and Richardson have served as CSOs for two years. They both work at least 10 hours a week, sometimes until 1 a.m., and they love it. Walking casually up Plum Street to meet their SafeWalk client at Moby, they reflected upon their favorite part of that job.
“I think my favorite part of the job in general is the people. I love the other CSOs, I love working with them, I love the police officers and working with them, getting to know our dispatchers and the people we SafeWalk,” Richardson, a senior and criminal justice major, said. “We get to meet new people all the time.”
McCoy echoed her co-workers sentiments, explaining that what her brother, a former CSO, told her about his experience on the job was correct.
“When my brother told me about it, he described it like a family atmosphere. Everyone has each other’s backs, and he told me that there is a lot of integrity in a police department . I really wanted to work with people like that, so it just sounded appealing to me,” McCoy said.
After the duos’ first of two SafeWalks Thursday, Richardson said that SafeWalk can provide more than an escort home: a CSO once responded to a call from a student whose shoelace was caught in their bicycle’s gear.
“Hopefully that would be your first thought if you needed help; to call the police department,” she said. ” . So you can call SafeWalk and we can help you with more than just SafeWalk,” she said.
Staff writer K.C. Fleming can be reached at email@example.com.