Riding alongside Sgt. Frank Agosta of the Rowan Police Department during his night shift on Feb. 22 showed me just how unique the role of a police officer is on a university campus.
Armed with about 12 patrol vehicles and typically four-to-five officers, every day and night, they patrol the campus. While they have the equipment and the uniforms of police, their jobs are actually unique from their Glassboro counterparts.
“A lot of the stuff that goes on in a school may look weird,” Agosta explained. “Like someone standing outside a door two towns over at 2:30 a.m., that’s looking a little suspicious. Here, it’s just some friends meeting at school.”
Seeing this from Agosta’s perspective made me believe that campus police officers are in a compromising position. They see things every night that would make a town cop intervene, yet to Rowan PD, it’s just another night in Glassboro.
“So even something like that,” Agosta said referring to a group of young women running across Carpenter Street. “A group of 40 girls, running, dressed in all black. Would you guys think that’s suspicious?”
If not for the fact we were on a college campus, I would find a lot of the behavior we saw to be suspicious.
“You take another officer, from somewhere else, that’s going to be suspicious to them. For us we all look out and know it happens every night. I think at one point every Sunday night this one sorority would dress in al black and go for a ‘Sorority Run,'” Agosta said.
In Agosta’s opinion, it helps to hire previous students. People who understand the realities of modern academia. Agosta himself graduated from Rowan University with a B.A. in Criminal Justice back in 2007.
“It’s scary to sit back and start looking at the actual foot traffic at night. We spend a lot of time on the road, driving around and seeing it. The amount of students that just expect every single car to stop,” Agosta said. “Pedestrians do have the right of way, but to a certain extent, the vehicle requires time to stop.”
Parking in the Chestnut lot at about 1 a.m. on Feb. 23, a silver Sedan came speeding the wrong way towards us. It’s front bumper clearly banged up, giving Agosta a creeping suspicion this car was involved in an accident from the previous night.
Agosta flashed his blue and red lights, the driver appeared to be agitated in response. It didn’t take long for Rowan PD to determine this individual was indeed involved in the crash the previous night. This time, the driver produced a different form of insurance, raising suspicion.
“When I was walking around the car, I noticed there was damage to the front. Last night we had a report of a crash pretty much right there,” Agosta said. “That was the same car from the incident. He gave the officer a physical copy of insurance. The one he gave me wasn’t, it didn’t match up.”
Requesting to see the driver’s insurance a second time to confirm it added up with the previous police report, the driver responded angrily. The driver stepped out of the car as I noticed the passenger’s phone pop out of the window to record the interaction. The driver raised his hands in surrender, but the officer never escalated the situation in a way to require him to do so.
“He started giving me issues because I wanted to see (insurance) again, I had already confirmed it was his vehicle, but I just tied his car to a crash last night. There was a possibility he provided the officer with false information,” Agosta said. “I’m trying to help the guy out, making sure the information is right on his crash report. Otherwise, the insurance companies are going to flag it, and then he’s going to get dinged for not having insurance.”
The driver screwed up, he was speeding the wrong way and drove straight to a police officer. Sergeant Agosta did his duty by stopping him, yet the driver was not going to be amicable.
“I got it all on recording too, it’s no threat to me. I don’t want to be one of those cops all over the news for doing something stupid,” Agosta said highlighting the common challenge of modern day policing. “I got my camera footage, I know I’m recorded right off the bat.”
The police have the driver on camera stating that the insurance he provided Frank was his only form. Yet, it was a digital copy which contradicts the physical one he provided the previous night. Agosta went easy on the driver issuing them a written warning, stating that they want to show the driver they aren’t targeting him or mistreating him.
“We could have given him all these tickets that night, but the officers worked with him. When it comes to a time when we end up locking him up or charging him finally, [we’ll say] ‘well listen, the officers gave him multiple breaks already.”
The next call came very quickly after we left the chestnut parking lot. This time one of the other patrollers stopped a car for having too many people in the backseat. Sergeant Agosta and his officers didn’t charge the group though, as the people in the back seat were inebriated. Since the driver had responsible intentions, they let him go without any charges.
“You got four people across the back seat with no seat belts,” Agosta said. “Typically, we aren’t going to issue a summons for that because, in the end, they are helping their friends.”
After experiencing the first few stops, I became curious. What would a student have to do in one of these situations to receive a charge from a campus police officer? It became apparent when the bike cop on duty noticed a student who was intoxicated.
They weren’t responding to charge him; they wanted to ensure the student was safe. After Rowan Emergency Medical Service determined the student didn’t require medical help, they let him go. The student wasn’t charged but will have to attend an alcohol and drug course at the wellness center.
“If a student is causing damage, or threatening others, then we would go ahead and charge him criminally,” Agosta said.
In this situation, the student wasn’t causing any harm to people or school property, so the police saw no reason to come down hard on him. I’m glad they didn’t.
Could you imagine if campus police charged every single student they came across that was drinking underage? How could students ever trust college police if they did? Especially for freshman students, who may not understand the expectations placed on them. Regardless of your feelings towards the police, you should at least be grateful they are willing to show you respect if you reciprocate it.
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