University Police Department (UPD) officers roam campus throughout the week, watching over Cal Poly and the surrounding neighborhoods. However, this is a small portion of their job.
Last Saturday evening, Mustang News had the opportunity to ride alongside UPD officer Neal McAllister during one of his weekend patrols.
Officer McAllister works the swing shift — the shift preceding the graveyard shift — from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. He began his shift by drinking a protein shake.
“I drink four of these a night,” he said, only to be cut off by another officer who advised not to get him talking about his protein shakes, or else he’d be talking for hours.
At 9:30 p.m., all the officers met with Sgt. Shawn Bishop to brief the sergeant on what happened the previous shift. This process happens between each shift to pass along any information that may be helpful or key for the following shift.
After the briefing, Officer McAllister’s patrol began. His first call was responding to a fire alarm in Cerro Vista apartments.
He climbed into his patrol car, which he referred to as his “baby,” and headed off toward the residence hall to investigate.
“Most of our calls are either alcohol-related, or someone who didn’t know how to make bacon,” he said.
UPD doesn’t only respond to on-campus crimes or alcohol-related offenses. It handles problems with facilities, fire alarms and lost and found.
McAllister’s patrol took him throughout campus and through several of the surrounding neighborhoods. He patrolled in neighborhoods on Hathway Avenue, Fredericks Street and downtown.
Despite receiving the San Luis Obispo City Council’s formal blessing to enforce municipal code violations within a one-mile radius of Cal Poly, UPD officers are state officers, so their jurisdiction extends over all of California. They are able to respond to and detain people anywhere in San Luis Obispo, even outside of the county.
McAllister was in constant contact with dispatch the whole night. He spoke in the radio to other officers whenever he moved from one area to the next, pulled someone over and anytime he responded to anyone 911 calls that night.
“Dispatch is kind of like our parents,” he said. “If you’re quiet for too long, they’ll radio in basically asking us ‘How are you?’”
On the weekends, McAllister spends evenings patrolling the neighborhoods looking for students who are drunk in public, carrying open containers of alcohol or other signs of danger, but keeping a sharp eye out for basic traffic violations.
Stopping someone for a traffic violation or a fix-it ticket can mean stopping someone who is also under the influence, McAllister said.
McAllister’s job is not about getting students in trouble, but protecting them from their mistakes. Working on campus, he is able to forge a relationship with the students.
“Some will say ‘Hey, Officer McAllister!’ when they see me drive by,” he said.
That protection, however, does not mean letting people off with warnings. Arresting students for being drunk in public or having open containers of alcohol prevents some students from harming themselves later.
“If I were to let them go, and they stumbled into traffic and got hit by a car, I would be held responsible,” he said.
He kept the mood light, using the loud speakers in his car to shout “Run, Forrest! Run!” to a small group of students running down the street. He joked with another who was dressed as a sergeant, asking “Hey sarge, how’s it going tonight?”
This particular Saturday night, five party buses had parked on Hathway Avenue with a crowd of students heading to themed parties. Students dressed as angels, demons, referees, athletes, hunters and deer swarmed the street, adopting a complacent and docile demeanor when they saw the approaching patrol car.
Most of the party buses that depart from Campus Bottle on California Boulevard go downtown to other venues that fraternities and sororities have rented out for the night. McAllister drove through those areas to keep an eye out for students who may be intoxicated.
Around 9:50 p.m., Officer McAllister spotted a student laying on the curb, surrounded by friends. He hit the brakes, radioed in that he had stopped to check out the situation and stepped out of his patrol car to approach the student.
“How are you doing tonight?” he asked, getting only a slurred response back. McAllister proceeded to question the student, asking “What is the legal drinking age in California? What does seven 3/4 make?” to see if the student was able to respond correctly and coherently.
All the while, students loading onto party buses looked on, uncomfortably trying to ignore what was going on.
After questioning the student and determining that he was unable to take care of himself or others, McAllister arrested him and took him back to the station.
Once the student had been taken to the station — slurring incomplete sentences and swearing the whole way — the process of pre-booking began. McAllister took down the student’s name, demographic information, emergency contact and where he lived, then provided a brief description of the crime.
The student was taken to county jail after all his information had been recorded. The drive down Highway 1 was peaceful on an unusually starry night, disturbed only by the student’s incoherent interjections.
The officers at the jail greeted McAllister with black latex gloves and looks on their faces that said they had seen students like this a hundred times before. They joked around the student, attempting to defuse any nervousness the student may have had.
After taking his pictures and assessing his health, they lead him into a solitary drunk tank where he would stay the night until he sobered up; he would be released the next morning.
For McAllister, his job is not done once the suspect is booked into county jail. He returned to campus and began the long process of filing the report of the incident.
He sat down at his computer to start filling out the report and found that his desktop screensaver had been changed to a picture of The Powerpuff Girls by another officer while he was out. After some initial objections from McAllister and laughter from the other officers, he went to work on the report.
The report includes what happened before, during and after the incident. It also includes the crime committed, if the case is closed or open, where copies of the report will be sent and the demographics of the suspect.
“People don’t realize that we are constantly filling out paperwork,” McAllister said. “Some reports will be so long that they take hours.”
The rest of the night was spent patrolling through San Luis Obispo chatting about music, family and life. The night was unusually quiet for a Saturday, most likely due to the festivities planned the next day for the Super Bowl.
Officer McAllister filled up on gas, grabbed his third protein shake from the station and set out again after taking a cautionary bathroom break.
“If you don’t go to the bathroom when you’re back at the station, you could be out on a scene for hours and realize you have to go, and that’s not fun,” he said.
UPD officers are seen every day, but students are only exposed to a small piece of them. A network of experienced officers and dispatchers and student volunteers all work to protect students and people in the community. They work throughout the day to protect students, respond to medical calls and check on students who burned their bacon.