By Leah Jones, Features Editor
Triton Take-Off Weekend and the Weeks of Welcome encouraged students to get involved on campus, but someone had to make sure that no one lost an eye during these events. The University of Missouri-St. Louis Police Department (UMSL PD), helped to ensure that the events ran smoothly as students accelerated into the fall semester. However, the UMSL PD does much more than ensure ocular safety, and the department held two open houses on August 30 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., and August 31 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. to educate the student body and faculty about their role on campus.
Officer Brian Clements, who works as the Crime Prevention and Community Involvement officer in the Special Operation Division of the UMSL PD, organized the event[s]. Behind a table of cookies and lemonade, Clements and other officers answered questions from students. “I hope that this gets our brand out there to our students, and just [lets] them know that we’re here. If they need us for anything, we’re always available. They have the benefit of having an officer being about a minute to two minutes away in an emergency,” Clements said.
Clements’ father, who worked for the Illinois State Police, inspired Clements to become a police officer. Clements began his career as a Missouri State Trooper in 2013. However, he said that working as a Missouri State Trooper is much different than working as a state police officer. “Their focus is highway safety, that… I wasn’t really looking for. So when we got out there and most of my job was writing people tickets and crashes, I was like ‘This isn’t fun.’ It’s really hard to be a state trooper if you don’t like writing tickets. So that became a huge issue for me,” he said. “I wanted to be more of a friendly face and interact with people.”
His current position as the Crime Prevention and Community Involvement officer gives Clements exactly that chance. Clements said that he had never considered working for a university police department before, but when he saw the job opening with the UMSL PD, he jumped at the opportunity. “I thought ‘That’s something different’,” he said. “My job is to actually go out there and interact with the students and be that point of contact between the police department and the rest of the community, as well as giving them helpful hints, safety presentations, [and] self-defense classes. I feel very fortunate…It was very exciting,” Clements said. However, due to recent university-wide budget cuts, Clements is the only Crime Prevention and Community Involvement Officer.
During the open house, several students expressed an interest in self-defense classes. While Clements is certified to teach some self-defense classes, the classes are another budget-cut casualty, and students would have to pay $12. Though the students at the event said that they would be willing to pay $12, other students may not be able to pay for the self-defense classes. Clements hopes to talk to some of the departments around campus to find a sponsor for the classes instead.
Clements also gave tours of the police department. Students first encountered Parking and Transportation Services, which deals with parking passes and parking violations. Tony Rosas has been working at UMSL for 19 years, and has been an Emergency Roadside Service Driver for Parking and Transportation Services for the past 16 years, making him the longest serving EM Driver. Rosas is a mechanic by trade, but due to injury, eventually obtained a job working as an Emergency Roadside Service Driver. Rosas said, “I love it because I see a lot of kids that don’t see things. They just know how to put gas in the car and drive it, and they don’t see things. So when I go give them a jumpstart and I see something else going bad on their car, I let them know. I’ve given a few classes here at the university [about] how to do preventative maintenance on their cars, both for faculty staff and students. I enjoy it because I see a lot of things, and I show the kids how to do it, help them out…You don’t have that much money to spend on the car.”
Students saw the offices of the lieutenants, executive officers, commanders, and Chief of Police, Forrest Van Ness’ office next. Clements then walked students back to the Interview room. Students may have been surprised to find that the room, though bare, lacked the characteristic hanging light and two-way mirror depicted in popular television police dramas. Clements said that the UMSL PD tries to be up to date with interview trends, and that when the officers need to take a statement or obtain a confession, “We try to keep a neutral space…There’s nothing else in here that is going to cloud what they’re thinking about.”
Next, students saw the temporary holding cells where detainees sit while officers finish paperwork to either release them or transfer them to a different facility. Though the temporary holding cells are not set up to keep people overnight, the room was set up to take fingerprints. “We do things old-school. We still ink fingerprint,” Clements laughed. “The ink takes forever to wash off.”
Students also toured the roll call room, where officers sit around a round table and discuss current events on campus. After they visited the sergeants’ and detective’s offices, students finally saw the Emergency Operations Center. The Emergency Operations Center is equipped with telephones and hotlines in case of an emergency where many people may be calling the police department at the same time. Hotline operators can field the telephone calls and collect information while the dispatch center sends help where it is needed.
Chief of Police Forrest L. Van Ness, who joined the department in 2010 after working with the St. Louis County Police Department, spoke about what he hoped the event would achieve. “It’s about community at the core… It’s just another part of community policing. If we talk to each other, then we don’t make stuff up about each other,” he said. “The responsibility that we have extends beyond municipal policing. With municipal policing, at the end of the day, young adults go back to their parents. Here they stay. So we have a responsibility to parents that trust us with their adult children [to] foster an environment that allows them to grow and mature and gain the education that they want.”
Clements agreed and said “We’re here – and we’re really here for the students to make sure that they can get their education and make sure that they can get back out there in the real world safely. And we really do want to kind of develop that friendly relationship with them. We’re not here to try to get everyone in trouble.” Despite difficult budget cuts and being open 24 hours per day, seven days per week including holidays, the UMSL PD does want to keep students safe, with all of their ocular organs in-tact.
For more information on the UMSL PD, visit safety.umsl.edu/police/.
For emergencies, call 314-516-5155.