Campus Safety Officer Program grows heading into second year
Wednesday, December 21, 2016 11:00 AM
“I graduated from CMU a year ago,” said Rosario Alba, Colorado Mesa’s newest campus safety police officer. “I wanted to stay in the valley and be able to give back to the school.”
Alba joined Zach Diaz this past September as the second campus safety police officer in the year-old pilot program. Diaz was an original police officer hired when the program started fall 2015.
After graduating with a degree in criminal justice, Alba headed straight into the Grand Junction Police Department (GJPD) training program, whereas Diaz traveled a different path. He joined the Marines straight out of high school and after four years returned to Grand Junction to enroll in the GJPD training program. Both officers completed the rigorous training structured around a 16-week police academy and additional 14-15 weeks of field training.
As fully sworn police officers, Alba and Diaz had numerous options but both decided the Campus Officer Safety Program was the place for them.
It takes a special kind of person to want to be a campus police officer, said Director of Campus Safety and Student Conduct Pua Utu, who has been in law enforcement for 22 years, “On campus we focus on community policing, building relationships and education. We are proactive here instead of reactive.”
Utu, Alba and Diaz engage with CMU social groups, clubs and athletic teams. They also spend time training staff, presenting to classrooms and working closely with campus safety assistants (CSAs) on top of their normal caseload.
There are 13 safety trained CSAs every semester assisting officers to keep campus safe. Through this program CMU students get a sense of what law enforcement is like. The students conduct security rounds and participate in the Safe Walk Program designed to safely get students, faculty and staff anywhere on the main campus and up to two blocks off-campus daily from 6pm-2am.
CSAs will often go on to attend the Western Colorado Community College Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) academy or the GJPD officer training program after graduating from CMU.
“Last seven to eight years we’ve produced nine to ten full-time police officers based all over Colorado,” said Utu when speaking about the CSA program.
Utu along with the campus safety officers have continue to work closely with the Grand Junction Police Department, contracting one sergeant and four officers to work on campus with a heavier focus on Wednesday through Saturday. These five GJPD police officers will patrol campus for three years before rotating out. The partnership with the GJPD also includes regular training and in-services for Alba and Diaz covering everything from firearm re-certification to crisis intervention.
The Campus Safety Police Program has come a long way since Diaz first learned of the job posting for an unarmed security guard position at CMU. “It was difficult for me being the first one laying down the foundation. There was a lot riding on this,” said Diaz.
As the program enters its second year, the officers are finding more students are involved and supportive.
Campus safety is an important topic for Colorado Mesa especially as the school continues to grow. Along with the additions of CMU officers, Utu and his team work with other student services departments focusing on mental health, preparedness, awareness and access to resource to ensure students feel safe on campus in all aspects.
Dana Nunn, Director of Media Relations