The AS Review sat down with Randy Stegmeier, the new chief of University Police, and asked him all kinds of questions. For the full text of the interview, check out our Web site at http://asreview-media.as.wwu.edu.
ASR: What do you see as the biggest specific concern for student safety at Western?
Stegmeier: The primary problem here is really property crime-oriented. We do have a problem with vehicle prowls and vehicle thefts. Anytime you have a university setting, you are going to have those issues. There are people out there, unfortunately, who are looking to make victims of property owners. They look at the university as a target-rich environment, for several reasons. It's a high concentration of people in a small place. Most college students are from middle class or upper-middle class families. … They have iPods, they have laptops, they have all this electronic equipment, they have nice cars ... it's a great place to go to try and rip something off. So they'll go through cars in the parking lots, they'll go through buildings looking for unattended backpacks and book bags that they can scoop up and take off with. … The best thing to do is make sure you take care of your own property and watch out for others.
ASR: How safe do you feel Western currently is for students? What can students do to increase safety?
Stegmeier: Fortunately, this is a very safe campus. … There are very few crimes against person here. And so really it comes down to issues of paying attention, using common sense. If you have to walk to your car or walk home, especially after dark, stay in the well-lit areas and don't walk by yourself unless you absolutely have to. And if there is a concern, call us, and we will respond. There are times when perhaps someone will see an individual that just doesn't seem right, and you should listen to those feelings you have. We're here 24/7, and we're here for your safety.
ASR: What do you plan on doing to improve student safety?
Stegmeier: I will be looking at and evaluating the programs that are currently in place, and perhaps they're great. Hopefully they are. If there are things that can be tweaked or added to, or if something new is needed, I'm certainly not opposed to making some changes. We are reviewing our entire Emergency Management plan, and we'll be going through that. … It's going to be a process, but I want to get underway with this as quickly as possible.
AS: What would you say is the biggest misconception college students have about the police?
Stegmeier: Probably that their first mission is that they're out to get them. Because that's absolutely not the case. The officers and supervisors are here primarily to serve the public and protect the students. They would put themselves at risk in a heartbeat to try to protect students. Heaven forbid that we would ever have anything remotely like Virginia Tech, but the officers here all know that if anything like that were to happen, we are trained and committed to putting ourselves at risk to try to protect students. The officers are here to be public servants first. Yes, when you're being pulled over because you were going ten miles over the speed limit or you're getting an MIP, you kind of feel like we're out to get you, but we're also kind of here as part of the educational process.
AS: What's one thing you'd want Western students to know about you?
Stegmeier: I am committed to their safety and well-being and that's why I'm here, and I'll be doing everything that I can to make this a safer place. It's not easy for students to learn and study or for faculty and staff to work if they have to be overly concerned about their safety. Our mission is to make this a safe environment so you can do those things and not have to be terribly concerned about those issues.
AS: Why did you want to work at Western?
Stegmeier: After spending basically 30 years in campus law enforcement, and then taking [a] position at Shoreline [Community College], which is non-commissioned...it's not a police department there, it's a security operation. I found I was really missing that campus policing part of my experience, and I wanted to get back to it and I was really hoping to find something in the Northwest that would suit me. This position [at Western] came open, and Western has a great reputation. And the police department also has an excellent reputation among law enforcement circles. So I came up, looked around a little bit, talked to a lot of people and asked a lot of questions and everything that I heard was absolutely positive about Western, about Bellingham and about the department here. So I threw my hat in the ring.
AS: Do you have a philosophy you try to live by?
Stegmeier: I always try to do the “Golden Rule” thing. I always try to consider others before myself. Not just in my personal life, but professionally too. The people with whom I work, I like to consider what the consequences of the decisions I make will be for them. I chose campus policing specifically because I really did want to be a public servant. I like that role. In every job, and I tell this to the officers too, always do more than is expected. You're expected to show up on time and do what's normally expected for your job, but do more than that. … It's a good philosophy to live by, and you can look at yourself in the mirror every day if you know you're doing more than others will expect of you.
AS: What's the strangest thing you've ever had to deal with on duty?
Stegmeier: One of the things that I would tell the recruits at the Academy when I was the commander was “You've selected law enforcement as your career. You won't get rich doing this job, but you will have experiences that will be immeasurable and that you couldn't possibly pay for.” When I was at the UW, we had many large events. The Queen of England attended a convocation at the university, and the Dahli Lahma had a presentation there, and we've had presidential candidates come to the campus, so those things have been very interesting. But for bizarre situations...at the UW Primate Center, on occasion we've had primates that have escaped their cages. And there were the college prank-type things... a vehicle that was placed in the Drumheller Fountain on campus. Then there's a huge flagpole on the UW campus, and we've had vehicle tires placed over the top of that. We've had farm animals in the libraries. In order to be successful in campus policing, you have to have a little bit of a sense of humor. There is a line at property damage or someone getting hurt, but there's definitely things that are entertaining that cause you to chuckle afterwards.
AS: What were you like as a college student?
Stegmeier: My roommate and several of the others who lived in the dorm with me actually nicknamed me “Straight Arrow.” And I really was, I always have been, I guess, kind of the “straight arrow” type. I was the designated driver, and they always loved to have me around because they knew someone would drive them safely home after parties. I wasn't beyond a college prank or two, but I certainly tried not to do anything that would cause injury or property damage or anything like that. I thoroughly enjoyed my four years at WSU and I wouldn't trade that for anything.
AS: What are your favorite things to do in your spare time?
Stegmeier: For too many years to count, I have been an avid softball player. And through this last year I've continued to play softball. It's actually been somewhat humorous the last few years. I play on a police team, and literally every other player on the team is young enough to be my son. And so I've been playing competitively with the young guys still. So I'll have to look around up here and see if there are teams available for me to play on. And perhaps I'll have to look at a “50 and older” team or something. But I love to play and I like watching softball and baseball. And actually the softball coach here, Lonnie Hicks, coached one of my daughters in fastpitch softball.