One writer spends a Saturday night tagging along with Stanford’s Department of Public Safety
“Why don’t I take party car?” asks Officer Eric Fenton of the Stanford Department of Public Safety at the start of his second overtime shift, on his day off.
Striding out into the brisk Saturday night, he runs through a mental checklist of patrol car procedure: check the lights, sound the siren, scan the radio, stow the guns. At 10 p.m., he drives out onto the road to begin patrolling and heads in the direction of the all-campus parties.
By day, he and his colleagues patrol traffic safety and report stolen bikes, laptops and cell phones, among other petty offenses. By night, and especially on weekends such as today, they frequently take on the role of campus babysitters. Fenton and other officers’ roles come after a year when liquor-law arrests on campus nearly doubled, according to the 2009 campus safety report.
Minutes after 10 p.m., Fenton spots a Ford Explorer with a faulty brake light and radios in that he’ll be pulling it over within a few blocks. He flips on the flashing lights. Dark silhouettes in the SUV swivel in their seats to see the source of the police lights, and there’s a moment of hesitation before they signal they’re pulling over.
Fenton focuses a bright beam of light on the Explorer before opening his door and strolling up to the car. A camera records his actions through the windshield.
“How’s everything going?” he asks. “Did you know that you’ve got a brake light out?”
He learns that the vehicle belongs to one of the intoxicated passengers that the driver offered to drop home safely. After running her license, Fenton thanks the driver and reminds her to have the owner fix the brake light when he can.
Pulling into a parking lot, Fenton opens a laptop in the cruiser. Reaching up to turn on the red, night vision-sensitive light, he squints at the screen left too bright by a day-shift officer. He carefully reports the information of his traffic stop on a special departmental form buried deep in the files of the computer. Closing the netbook, he glances at his watch and decides it’s time to check on the happenings at Xanadu.
Cars drive cautiously and pedestrians stare suspiciously as Fenton parks behind the house. He exits the car and strides around to the sidewalk in front of the waves of students entering Xanadu. He peers at the entrance of the party, checking that the hosts are requiring an SUID for entry. One such host in a wig and trucker hat–in line with the party’s “Dekes of Hazzard” theme–spots him and stumbles over with a friend taking care not to spill his beer.
“Is everything going all right, sir?” he asks.
“Everything’s fine,” Fenton answers. “Just making sure you guys are checking for IDs, not letting anybody in who could go upstairs and steal some laptops or anything.”
“Oh. Yes, sir. We’re checking.” He leans in closer. “We’ve let a few slip by if they’re really cute, if you know what I mean, but I got two boys posted on the stairs as well.”
His friend, listening attentively, perks up. “You called that one girl a whore!”
“Whoa. I’ve got nothing against women,” he says, adjusting his wig. “My mother is a woman. And she’s an angel!”
Fenton laughs and decides to check out the back of the party; his report could affect Xanadu’s ease and ability to throw parties in the future. For the most part, he’s satisfied, and he gets a Powerbar from the trunk before starting the engine.
Spotting a fellow officer parked in an adjacent lot he drives alongside and lowers his window. They chat for a few minutes in police jargon with a jocular tone. The radio is a constant hum in both cars: background noise which both seem to ignore as they laugh together, yet Fenton stops mid-sentence when a pertinent call comes from dispatch.
Someone has pressed the help button on one of the blue emergency towers on Mayfield. Fenton heads in the direction of the tower without finishing his description of the dilapidated handgun he’d offered to fix.
Upon arriving at the tower, Fenton finds no one and rationalizes that it was a false alarm. He marks it on the form on his laptop. Checking the time, he realizes he only has an hour left of patrolling and heads back to the parties on the Row.
More drunks approach him as he surveys the party procedures.
“In Oklahoma, cops are out to get you,” says one. “Y’all are cool here.”
Pleased that the parties are following protocol, Fenton asks if they need him to stay on any longer, and at 1:45 a.m. on his day off, he’s told that he can head back to the station to unload the patrol car and head home.