On a sunny spring day, Oscar Jacques, a campus safety responder with UC Riverside’s police department, walks through the HUB Plaza, stopping to chat with students and introduce himself.
Some of the students are unsure what to expect as Jacques, dressed in a tan knit shirt with his name and job title embroidered on his chest, dark khaki pants, and a police radio on his belt, approaches. He quickly explains how he’s part of a new program on campus and hands out his card.
“We’re trying to reimagine how we approach safety,” he told a group of students.
Jacques is one of four campus safety responders who joined the UCR police department last November as part of a new team of non-sworn, unarmed safety professionals. The new addition reflects a tiered approach to safety the department is taking in which it no longer sends armed officers to every call.
“We can focus the law enforcement officers on the emergency calls and the campus safety responders on community safety and being a liaison to the campus,” said Sgt. James Wright, who oversees the team.
It’s part of a new approach that focuses on improving safety through prevention, intervention, and education, instead of just enforcement.
“It’s sending a different message,” said Jeffrey Talbott, police chief and campus safety director. “This model we’re rolling out is more in line with the idea that we’re here for you, we’re here for the community.”
Two years ago, the police department became part of the newly created Health, Well-being, and Safety division, which brings together police, counseling, health, and other services under one umbrella so the campus can coordinate those services in a more comprehensive way.
In addition to wearing uniforms different from police officers, campus safety responders’ patrol vehicles have a different insignia and colors from the department’s black and white police vehicles. Their vehicles are white with blue and gold stripes and “Campus Safety” inscribed on the side.
The four campus safety responders each work 12-hour shifts, split into night and day shifts, so that one is on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
They deal with a variety of tasks that include responding to medical aid emergency calls, taking crime reports, traffic control, and patrolling the campus.
“It’s exciting being part of something on the ground level,” Jacques said. “I think this is one of those cornerstone times when law enforcement is changing.”
Jacques previously worked for 23 years as a parking enforcement officer in Transportation Services and knows the campus well. He was attracted to the new position due to the community engagement opportunity.
“I love talking to people,” he said. “I love interacting with people, especially being part of a diverse campus with people from different backgrounds.”
He joked that he’s naturally talkative. In his encounters with students, they’re soon smiling and laughing as he cracked jokes.
“I try to make myself as approachable as possible,” he said.
Yusra Oda, a third-year microbiology student, told Jacques she was a little apprehensive at first when he walked up to her and her sister Alaa Oda, a first-year microbiology student at the HUB Plaza.
“I think it’s so cool,” she said after learning about the campus safety responder program. “I feel like the fact there are more of them on campus talking to students will make them more approachable and students more comfortable.”
Jacques said he’s noticed that some students feel less intimidated dealing with campus safety responders. He described a recent medical aid he responded to involving a student who had been drinking. She was concerned she might be in trouble but relaxed once she saw he was only there to provide help, Jacques said.
Like Jacques, the other three responders all have backgrounds in public safety. One is an alum who was a member of the department’s community service officer program, another came from UCLA police, and the third worked in corporate safety and has a military background.
Jacques said they all share a commitment to helping the campus community.
“We’re here because of our students,” he said. “We want to see them get through their school years and graduate and see them succeed.”