A new academic year always brings new challenges for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department, but according to Assistant Chief Hassan Ramzah, its objectives of promoting community safety remain the same.
Though the UNL area is overflowing with students, Captain John Backer said he doesn’t notice a high spike in crime, though he said there’s a rise in the number of incidents.
“We see a spike in requests for assistance more so than crime,” he said. “With sheer numbers, you’ll probably see an increase in crime, but I think that has more to do with the numbers than it being the first few weeks of school.”
That assistance and education is especially important as UNLPD strives to cultivate a relationship with the class of 2022 and continue its relationships with the rest of the student body, according to Backer.
For Backer, who said UNLPD would have participated in Big Red Welcome if weather permitted, the first few weeks of the semester are all about showing how important UNLPD is as a resource for students.
“We want to be as accessible to students as we can be,” he said.
With thousands more students on campus, there are many more bodies to protect than the summer months, but Backer said UNLPD is prepared.
“We keep in mind that the university will have a brand new freshmen class who are on a campus for the first time,” Backer said. “But that doesn’t change what we do or what we look for. Our mission is the same year round: develop positive relationships with the university community and work together to make it a safe place.”
But with the legions of new pedestrians to the area comes the added risk of jaywalking and the subsequent commuter congestion. When it comes to jaywalking, which can happen frequently, according to Ramzah, UNLPD aims at showing its educational side.
“For jaywalking, we’re more focused on safety than punishment. It’s all about public safety,” he said. “Fortunately, we haven’t had any pedestrian accidents by jaywalking in recent memory, but we still need to focus on safety.”
Backer said the UNLPD monitors areas in which jaywalking is frequent and can become a problem for commuters and pedestrians alike. In these places, UNLPD hopes to fix the problem by changing the area’s design.
“It’s not about citations or enforcement,” he said. “It’s about making design changes that reduce the conflict between pedestrians and traffic.”
He also said it is rare for UNLPD to issue jaywalking citations.
Backer said as syllabus week introduces new freshmen to college life and reunites old friends in the sophomore, junior and senior classes, parties become much more frequent. But he said that doesn’t make UNLPD any stricter in its enforcement methods.
“We’re aware that more parties are being thrown, and we try to work with Lincoln police as much as possible,” Backer said. “But it still circles back to helping students make responsible decisions and stay safe. That is much more important than citations.”