CSO program cut draws campus outcry

Erin McGroarty / Sun Star

As part of university-wide budget cuts proposed by state legislators, the UAF Community Service Officer (CSO) program will be cut from the campus Police department as of July 1 of this year. This announcement has members of the campus community in an uproar.

“I was horrified,” Amanda Byrd, biomass coordinator for the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, said.

Byrd directs the annual Tour of Fairbanks road bike race each year, stages of which occur across campus.

“We couldn’t have held such a professional race without the CSOs. They were incredible,” Byrd said. “The service to the community they provide is invaluable.”

The CSO program currently has 14 positions, less than half of which are filled at the moment, according to Police Chief Keith Mallard.

In addition to the CSO cut, the Police department has been forced to reduce their number of campus police officers by one position, changing the number to only eight.

All of these changes were made in an effort to meet a roughly 19 percent budget cut to the police department, Mallard said. 

Along with additional campus surveillance and security, CSOs provide a multitude of other services to the student and faculty community on campus. These include locking and unlocking campus and CTC buildings at the beginning and end of each day, providing free jump start service to those broken down on campus, helping students recover keys locked in cars and providing security escorts for students and faculty, among many other services.

I’ve had four jumpstart requests already today,” Brandon Elkins, a CSO for three years, said. “Those calls come all the time and a lot of times these people are struggling, they’re having kind of a bad day when things like that happen and when we come around we can help those people have a little better of a day.”

Many of these services will either be discontinued entirely due to a lack of personnel, or reallocated to other campus offices, Mallard said. This means students will now have to call a taxi or locksmith instead of calling CSOs like Elkins.

The police department will continue to provide security escorts on campus. However, during the week there is typically only one officer on shift at a time, causing students to have to wait much longer for an available officer.

Mallard emphasized the help provided by the CSOs during large events on campus such as Springfest recently, Starvation Gulch in the fall, the Sparktacular Fireworks event and the Festival of Native Arts.

“CSOs are a great extra set of eyes and ears on campus,” Mallard said. “They help direct traffic, they help provide additional security at events. Without them this help will no longer be available.”

Elkins said his duties at the station and across campus are various in nature but he feels that the presence of the CSOs helps to delegate work at the police station.

“I do anything from the finger printing here at the station to checking in weapons, looking for potential thefts, looking for graffiti suspects. Essentially anything that the police officers want or need us to do, or where they need more eyes and ears,” Elkins said.

This cut will put much more work on the shoulders of the police officers at the station now, Mallard said. A significant amount of restructuring had to occur to figure out work delegation without the help of the CSOs.

“Now we will have a Chief of Police and everyone else will be patrol,” Mallard said, “So a lot of the investigative things that we were able to do before will be done by patrol officers that will be pushing that in with the rest of their daily work.”

Along with helping members of the campus community through their service, the CSO program also helps train future members of state law enforcement.

Elkins said he plans to apply for the Alaska State Troopers after his time as a CSO. He would not be starting with the troopers until February of 2017 though.

“I’ll have to figure out something between now and then to keep me afloat,” he said.

Elkins explained this program has opened the doors to many career opportunities for him and other CSOs looking to enter into law enforcement later.

“This is kind of like a stepping stone for us. Here I’ve been able to work with dispatch and see how calls come in and how police officers react to different situations. I’m able to get an inside perspective that’s really helpful,” he said.

Some of the newer CSOs are not so fortunate, Elkins explained. With the program being cut in July, many feel they do not have adequate training and experience to make the leap into full fledged law enforcement.

“They feel like they’re not ready now because they were so new on the job here,” Elkins said.

Students have expressed concerned about the cut as well.

“I don’t think it’s the best idea to cut the CSOs,” said Lindsey Johnson, a 23 year-old Communications major. “Especially when they’re trying to pass a bill that would allow students to have guns on campus. I personally feel safer with the CSO presence on campus.”

While Chief Mallard explained that he understood the universities tight budget, he was disappointed in this choice.

“If they’re making cuts in the Police Department then I think everyone should be doing it to some degree,” Mallard said.

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