UNC Charlotte police officer Jerry Lecomte stood across from the Student Union and offered passersby a little experiment: Put on the red goggles, then pick up the slips of paper on the ground with the pincer.
It sounded easy to most – until they tried it.
One by one, each student miscalculated and clumsily squeezed the pincer’s grip an inch to the left or an inch to the right.
After five years on the campus police force, Lecomte knows how to grab the attention of college students – like using goggles with lenses that mimic a person’s level of impairment after a few drinks.
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“I can stand here all day and tell them they can’t drink and drive,” he said. “But I’d rather provide them with the goggles and say, ‘Here, you decide. Is this the way you would want to be driving on campus, off campus, (or) on the highway?’”
UNCC has 45 sworn police officers with authority on and off school grounds. The uniqueness of serving on a college campus, as opposed to in a city or a town, doesn’t escape cops like Lecomte.
“It’s almost like a fountain of youth,” he said as crowds of young students rushed by. “The population never ages.”
Each year students come to campus and set up their homes-away-from-home in dorm rooms across the university. Most are on their own in a new town and away from their parents for the first time.
Part of Lecomte’s job is to make sure they stay safe by making wise decisions.
“It’s not about how many arrests we can make,” he said. “It’s not about how many tickets we can write. It’s about getting the students to see us as a good option and a good resource.”
A 2012 Department of Police and Public Safety crime statistics report showed 78.6 percent of the student population feels safer on campus than in previous years. Most report the high visibility of police – on bicycles, on foot, on Segways and in squad cars – as the main reason.
“I always see the police driving around,” said Krystal Carmichael, 19, who lives in Miltimore Hall. “You definitely feel their presence.”
Crime on campus has decreased in many categories over the years. The report also showed the number of criminal offenses dropped from 644 in 2010 to 414 in 2011, a 35.7 percent decrease, and the lowest number of reported offenses since 2003.
Theft of opportunity remains the biggest issue on campus.
“Students leave property unattended, unlocked or unsecured, and someone else may find a need for that property and steal it,” said Lecomte.
To combat the issue, campus police launched Operation ID in 2010, a free engraving service for plastic or metal items such as laptops, iPads, calculators and bikes.
Use of the program has grown. In its first year, only 44 students used the service; last year more than 200 students had at least one item engraved.
Lecomte said the numbers this year would easily surpass those from last year.
“We were out here yesterday and had probably 15 requests or better,” he said.
With each event like Operation ID, he works to meet as many students as he can because he knows time is limited.
“In a town, you may have 30 years to get to know your population,” said Leconte. “We typically have four to five years, and then we got a new batch of students.”