Police on patrol
24 hours in London: 2 a.m.–4 a.m.
By Liz Bernier
Special Constable Loretto Rossi hands me a bulletproof vest to wear under my coat.
It’s just standard procedure, he says. And just one of many ways Western University’s Campus Police take the extra step toward ensuring students’ safety.
As we pull out of the parking lot in a cruiser on one of Rossi’s many patrols of the night, he explains that there is much more to the job than simply waiting for a call to come through.
We drive through every alley and parking lot, looking for anything out of place—a suspicious vehicle, a skulky-looking loiterer, a broken window. In the early-morning hours, Rossi says, the problems are often related to drinking and break-ins.
The job is very similar to that of municipal police forces, with two key differences—Campus Police are only responsible for policing campus property, and—at Western—they don’t carry firearms.
That aside, they have all the same powers and responsibilities as municipal police forces.
“We have all the same duties,” Rossi said, adding that they can deal with everything from violent offenders to traffic violations on campus.
In fact, Rossi’s partner Scott Hessel recently retired from the London police force before coming to work for the campus force, joking that he’s “too young to stop working.”
Many other Campus Police officers have also worked for other forces—including the OPP, Timmins, Chatham-Kent, Toronto and the RCMP.
Rossi, however, is not one of them, having been with the campus police for seven years, joining straight out of the police foundations course at Lambton College.
The force includes 12 special constables, four sergeants and two staff sergeants. They have vehicle patrols, foot patrols and even bike patrols when the weather is warm enough,
The full uniform includes a bulletproof vest, a duty belt with an extendable baton, pepper spray and handcuffs—essentially everything a municipal cop would carry, Rossi says—minus the gun.
Every night, there’s a set number of patrols, but Rossi says it’s hard to predict which nights will be the busiest.
“Thursday, Friday and Saturday can be really busy for us depending on what’s going on,” he said, but adds that “every night is different—a Monday can be just as busy as a Saturday.”
“We can be busier than some small (municipal) detachments.”
Campus Police are on duty all year round, but as you would expect, they are much busier during the school year.
“At night we’re the central hub of the university, so we’re responsible for the safety and security of everyone on campus,” Rossi said.
The University Community Centre is a hotspot, as are the residences and the library, particularly for thefts, Rossi said.
But their job isn’t limited to investigating crimes, Rossi says. Awareness campaigns, community involvement, self-defence training for women—basically anything and everything that can help prevent crime before it occurs is part of the job description for campus officers.
“We try to be as proactive as possible,” Rossi said. “You could just sit in the office and wait for things to happen—but if we can stop them from happening, that’s even better.”
Every officer on the force receives special in-service training for dealing with individuals who are intoxicated or have taken drugs. The officers also receive training for handling individuals with mental health issues, and for understanding cultural differences.
“The campus community is so diverse, so it’s nice to have a little bit of knowledge about the different people we are dealing with,” Rossi said. “The community aspect of (the job)—especially at Western—is huge.”
And it’s that sense of community that makes being on the force more than just a job for Rossi.
“It’s always different,” he said. “It’s not a normal 9-to-5 job where we’re sitting at a desk all day.”