I’ve always wondered what it was like to be in law enforcement. Every night, I hear the sirens wail outside my window in Congreve Hall as police cruisers, ambulances and fire trucks drive to incidents on campus. It seems like the sirens are more frequent on the weekends, and I always wonder where they are going, whether it be to a frat house party or a car accident.
As an editor for The New Hampshire, I was lucky enough to see firsthand what it is really like to be a police officer at the University of New Hampshire.
On October 26, Supervisors Sergeant Eric Bourn of the UNH Police Department took me on a ride-along to speak about the crimes that they face day-to-day and for me to see them for myself.
Bourn, a staff supervisor, started working for UNH PD almost 15 years ago. Before that, he worked as an officer in Epsom, NH, a small town just outside the state capital of Concord. Bourn worked in Epsom for eight years, and told me about just how different it was working there compared to his job at UNH.
“It is definitely a different job working for campus law enforcement and working municipal law enforcement in a town” Bourn said, “you’re dealing with a transient population [here].
“In the town of Epsom, after a few years of working there, I knew to some degree the people in my town,” he continued. “You know the people that are potential trouble-makers, the ones that have domestics all the time, the local drug dealer, the one who drives with a suspended driver’s license all the time.”
Bourn explained how greatly the people differ from year-to-year at the university but stay relatively the same in Epsom, saying that “the people in the [UNH] community are only here for four years.”
Bourn told me that another major difference between Epsom and Durham was how the latter deals with people with bad behavior.
“The town of Epsom can’t decide ‘We don’t want you in our town anymore, goodbye,’” he told me. “The university, through the university judicial system, can decide that ‘you are not a person that lives up to the standards of our community, thanks for coming, see you later, bye.’”
At UNH, according to Bourn, the vast majority of crimes are either alcohol-related or alcohol-fueled. Bourn also listed domestic abuse as another common type of incident in Durham, but stated that the intensity of domestic issues in areas like Epsom are much more intense than domestic issues in Durham.
“A college boyfriend and girlfriend do not have the same stress and baggage that a married or just living together couple has, when you live with someone you have kids, paying bills,” he explained. “If you get mad at your girlfriend you can say, ‘ok, I’m going back to my dorm, see you tomorrow, or not,’ you get some space.”
The ride-along kicked off with a tour of the police department. I could see the dispatch center inside, looking like it was pulled straight out of NCIS, complete with several computer monitors, a TV with the Red Sox game on it, and a staff answering calls from other dispatch centers and directing the incidents to officers on the road.
Bourn then showed me the evidence room which reeked of confiscated marijuana that was locked up individually and sectioned off by case. The garage soon followed, as did the presentation room, administrative offices and the booking room, where suspects go to get photographed, fingerprinted and issued bail.
The tour gave me an intriguing look into the work environment the police at UNH call home. The employees all seemed really excited as they exited the station, armed with coffee in their hands and smiles on their faces, each of them ready to help.
Having never been in any police car before, entering Bourn’s Ford Explorer was a crazy experience. Yet, I was fascinated to see amenities and similarities that it shared with any old vehicle. A panel of buttons with small graphics on them – to show different sirens, light patterns, and sounds the car could make – lined the center console. A mount for a laptop was also present, despite the absence of a laptop in the vehicle I was in at the time.
“We bought four computers this year will be put in cruisers, we put them in two of the newest ones that we have and the other two will be in two brand new ones that haven’t even been on the road yet,” Bourn said. “The hands-free laws and things now that apply to cellphone usage in a car, same thing applies to us with using laptops, you can’t be driving around the road using your laptop.”
Bourn noted that the reason why he chooses to switch up siren types is to alert people, specifically pedestrians, that aren’t noticing the police cruisers.
“It’s not just private cars that students step in front of; even [police cars], they do that too,” he said. “With lights and sirens going, nothing stops them these days. I’m pleased but truly amazed that we don’t have pedestrians getting hit more often; not that I want that at all, but with the amount of distracted driving and pedestrians running out in the road, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more.”
Jaywalkers were the least of Bourn’s worries as he drove around the campus. After reviewing arrest logs sent to the editor’s desk at TNH, I asked Bourn about the frequency of alcohol and its relationship to crimes committed on campus.
“Alcohol is tied into most everything we deal with,” the officer said. “Domestics don’t happen a lot but when they do it’s when one or another of them has too much to drink and it fuels them doing something they wouldn’t normally say or do. I can’t say that sober people have never walked through and smashed up car mirrors; but generally speaking, that’s drunk [people saying] ‘Hey, let’s go smash up cars.’”
While Bourn feels that crime has been on the decline at the university since he joined 15 years ago, he stressed that there “will always be alcohol use on a college campus, I get that… what we have done to a large degree is control it.”
“When I first started here on a Friday, Saturday night, we would have wall to wall pedestrians down Strafford Ave, we don’t have people walking around with open containers like we used to,” Bourn continued. “We would go out on the bicycles and it would not be unusual to make between a half dozen to a dozen arrests for people walking around with solo cups of beer or just a can of beer in their hands.”
“There are those who say, ‘all you’ve done is drag it underground,’ [and] that may be the case. Maybe we have driven it behind closed doors. Our overall call volume is up but the arrest numbers seem to be down. We are not, for the most part, having the degree of violent fights that we used to have,” he said.
While reflecting upon the state of campus crimes, Bourn recalled one case in particular nearly a decade ago, pertaining to a fight involving a suspect in a banana costume that “knocked a kid down and kicked him until there was some question as to whether he was going to survive.” Per Bourn, a “big investigation” followed that led to the arrest of the costumed suspect. Looking forward ten years since then, he told me that “[w]e have not had that level of violence.”
Bourn noted how lucky UNH is to not face such levels of violence, adding how lucky we are as a community to not be facing as many hard drug problems as other parts of New Hampshire.
“We have been extremely fortunate considering the state of the heroin and opioid epidemic in the rest of the state that we have not had a huge presence of it here on campus,” he said. “Do I think it’s out there? Of course, it is. We keep waiting, not anxiously, we don’t want it to happen here. But it’s a matter of time [before] incidents like [overdoses] happen here.”
Despite its luck, Bourn said that UNH has not been without drug-related incidents.
“Durham has dealt with it on the peripheries of campus. They had an overdose once when they were building the Lodges at West Edge, the construction people building that, there was an overdose, once of the construction guys OD’d (overdosed),” he recalled. “But it hasn’t happened on campus property, and I’m perfectly okay with that.”
As part of his job as a supervisor, Bourn isn’t required to respond to calls unless they become larger than the on-duty officers can handle. That being said, over the course of the ride-along I witnessed several incidents, including a routine traffic stop, a public intoxication, and a medical transport resulting from possible alcohol poisoning. Out of these incidents, the thing that struck me the most was how much care the officers of UNH PD seemingly gave toward students as they put health and safety ahead of the law.
“The vast majority of things that we do here is for the student’s safety,” Bourn said. “Our concern is that the kid staggering up the road gets to his dorm, and it sounds silly to say it, but passes out in his bed, and does not wake up again.”
When Bourn dropped me back off at the station, I asked him what his favorite part of being an officer at UNH is. He highlighted graduation, explaining that he loves seeing the ginormous population of successful UNH students go forward with their lives.
“There are bad people in any area, but the proportion at UNH is so low,” he said.
And when in the passenger’s seat of that SUV, I didn’t see cops fighting criminals, but people helping people in need.