“Would you like a safety escort tonight?”
This is a typical question that Peter Sanchez asks his fellow CSUN students during the week.
Sanchez, a sophomore sociology major, has been working as a community service assistant, under the CSUN Matador Patrol for a little over a year. As an assistant coordinator of the CSA, Sanchez wanders around campus on the lookout for suspicious people, or students and faculty who are alone and may feel unsafe.
“Having safety escorts benefit students who must stay on campus late due to night classes or study groups, and feel apprehensive walking to their cars alone,” said senior biology major Kirandip Sembiring, who has been accompanied at night by a CSA.
There are 11 CSAs — including two advisers — on duty each night, said Christine Villasenor, student coordinator of the CSUN Police Department. Campus safety escorts must be students, and are paid or on a volunteer basis, she said. Their operating hours are Monday through Thursday, from dusk until 11 p.m.
More than 1,600 people were escorted by CSAs last March, including those who were solicited and those who called into dispatch, according to the 2010 annual crime report.
Major areas of the campus are patrolled by CSAs, including the Oviatt, Univerity Student Union, Redwood Hall, Arbor Grill and Sierra Center, Sanchez said.
Despite their presence, many students are unfamiliar with the CSAs and their work on campus. Students who mostly have class during the day may have never heard of them because CSAs work at night and approach students taking evening classes, said Sanchez.
Sembiring recalls the first time she was approached by a safety patrol officer near the library after a late study session.
“The experience was surprisingly positive, as I expected an awkward walk to my car, but instead felt safe and had a nice conversation on the way,” Sembiring said.
In addition to safety escort duties, CSAs also patrol for CSUN housing, which typically has seven to 11 safety escorts for the dorms, Sanchez said.
Sanchez and his fellow safety escorts work office hours, which includes administrative duties, such as filing and filling out paperwork for the department.
The safety escorts spend their evenings assisting people other than CSUN students. Several faculty members often call in to ask for a safety escort to accompany them from their classroom to their car, Sanchez said.
SKILLS & TRAINING
Training to be a CSA includes learning and understanding the policies, rules and regulations of the school’s police department, as well as geographical locations of every building on campus, said Sanchez.
Through his experiences as a CSA, Sanchez has acquired many skills.
“It’s a good working experience especially if it’s your first job,” he said. “You learn a lot of communication skills. Once you apply for a promotion you learn more skills like management, leadership, and time-management and prioritizing.”
CSAs are also given examples of how to approach someone at night, he added.
“You don’t want to approach someone the wrong way or creep them out. It’s all about quality service. That’s one of our main priorities,” he said.
Magazine journalism major Christina Cocca, a junior, felt intimidated when she was approached by a safety escort one night. She felt he was too persistent. She declined the offer to be escorted to her car, saying she had the keys on her key ring to spread out between her fingers like a claw and would use it against anyone who approaches her or tries to attack her. The escort said that strategy wouldn’t work and continued to argue with Cocca.
Despite this incident, Cocca still recognizes the benefits the CSAs could have for students.
“If there really is a bad situation and a dangerous person approaches someone, the only time an escort can help them is if the escort is trained in self-defense and ways to handle dangerous scenarios,” Cocca said. “I am actually curious how they qualify as a prepared escort and would like to learn more so maybe I could use them to my benefit.”
Christina Villalobos, public information officer for the department, said there is mandatory training for all members of Matador Patrol. Training consists of a day of learning about night safety escort patrol techniques, residential life safety and security program procedures, effective communication with the public and a 3-hour pepper spray defense course, she said.
Students who have already been working in the Matador Patrol and are returning the next semester receive additional training in body language in confrontational situations, scenarios for each service offered, and a workshop to increase report writing skills, Villalobos said.
Specialized training is optional and includes a one-hour online defensive driving course, a one-hour electric cart safety course, a 5-hour bicycle training course, and four hours for T.I.P.S. Certification, she added.
TIPS. (Training for Intervention Procedures) is a skills-based training program that is designed to prevent intoxication, underage drinking and drunk driving, said Villalobos.
LIVING THE DREAM
Sanchez first heard about the program through one of his EOP mentors, who was a former CSA advisor.
“I already had an interest starting college to go into law enforcement, and I figured they work for the department of police services so that would give me an advantage or a head start in learning the materials and procedures,” said Sanchez.
Growing up in a rough neighborhood in Los Angeles, the police were seen as the enemy, he said. Sanchez was taught not to put his trust in cops, believing any association or affiliation with them would end with a target on his back.
As he grew older, this perspective changed and, at age 16, Sanchez decided he wanted to one day be a member of law enforcement.
“I personally want to be a law enforcement officer because I want to give that hope to people growing up in the community that cops aren’t bad and hopefully change someone’s life, [and] make the world better,” he said.
The tough neighborhood he lived in prevented him from living freely. “I couldn’t go outside, couldn’t dress a certain way, couldn’t be out at a certain time, and I just got tired of it. People can’t live like this, [being] threatened all the time,” said Sanchez.
Not only has this job given him the confidence to venture down this career path, but it has allowed him to set an example for others to follow.
“[My family is] proud to see me becoming the person I am and not taking the route a lot of my friends did,” Sanchez said. “Some are in jail now, dropped out of school, and some have died from being gang members. Most of my friends didn’t go to college. Some of them look at me as a role model.”