First Responders: Campus, T police help Hill residents

June 14, 2013
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Mission Hill has a wide variety of policing units to call on for assistance aside from the Boston Police (BPD). With multiple campus police departments, including Northeastern University and Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT), and a Transit Police substation based out of the Roxbury Crossing MBTA station, the Hill is well-looked-after. The Gazette took some time to talk to some representatives of those units.

Northeastern Campus Police

The captain of NU’s Campus Police, Albert Sweeney, might be called a repeat offender: after doing 34 years with BPD, he started serving NU and its students in 2004. He was part of the group in charge of finding a replacement for the last captain when someone suggested he take the job himself.

“The more I thought about it, working with students, it seemed like a great opportunity, so I decided to make a move,” he said. “I’m a city kid from Dorchester. I’ve always been committed to working with kids and the neighborhoods surrounding [NU]. It was a great chance to give back to students and work where I got my degree.”

Sweeney said one of his favorite things about his second career is the availability he has with his time.

“When you’re in the public sector [BPD], you’re going from call to call to call. Here, we’re available to provide deeper services,” he said. “I jokingly say that you could arrest a student, tow his vehicle, bail him out, take him to court, get him to counseling and reintegrate him into the community.”

It’s that kind of availability that allows the NU campus police to accommodate unusual situations. Recently, a student’s father died during finals week. NU Campus police arranged parking services for her so she could make it to her test and her father’s services.

“We’re the parents in loco. We’re here when the parents can’t be here. I’ve been there for interventions, helping with troubles at home and been able to sit students down in my office,” Sweeney said. “It’s a wonderful feeling when you see a student, two years later at their graduation, and they give you a thumbs up.”

The 66 NU campus police officers and 21 community service officers work closely with BPD, Sweeney said, and until very recently, were all also trained EMTs.

“So we walk in with a gun on our right hip and a medical bag on our left arm,” he joked.

And a big part of NU campus police remains nighttime patrols and community calls.

“We work very hard to make sure the neighbors can call on us,” he said. “The problem is when it’s other schools’ kids. Eight of 10 calls, it’s not our [NU] kids. People always think it’s NU, because we’re the biggest” student population in Mission Hill, he explained.

“Keep in mind, we have almost 16,000 students on campus. If we have five or six calls in a weekend, that’s a lot,” he said. “Considering all the good students, we can focus on the very few that create the problems. But it’s mostly problems as opposed to criminal activity.”

“It’s been this wonderful place to work,” Sweeney said. “It’s a great university and great students.”

MBTA Transit Police

“I thought it was an honorable profession to go into,” Transit Police Officer Nora Carroll told the Gazette of her motivation for joining the force. “I think a lot of people don’t understand our department. We’re not security officers. We go through a lot of training.”

The Transit Police actually has the second largest jurisdiction in the Commonwealth—and also in Providence, R.I.—after State Troopers. It includes bicycle and motorcycle units, plainclothes details and MBTA station monitoring.

“If a bus or train runs through a town, we have jurisdiction there,” Carroll explained. “People don’t realize we can pull them over. We can fulfill all lawful purposes of a police officer.”

An average day for Carroll starts at 7:30 a.m. with roll call and going over the last shift’s reports and notices, followed by receiving that day’s assignment. On the day of the Gazette’s visit, she was slated for uniformed patrol along the Orange Line. Her favorite, however, is riding a patrol car with a partner.

“I work with a lot of great people, so riding in a two-person car is my favorite duty. We’re a really tight-knit group down here,” Carroll said. “It’s probably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.”

That said, there are plenty of bad days.

“If someone gets hurt, that’s always a bad thing. I get into physical altercations and got hit by a car once,” Carroll said.

She explained that she directing drivers to a detour when a driver decided she did not want to take the detour and angrily backed into Carroll. That driver was arrested.

“A lot of people just don’t make sense,” she said. “When I come home with bruises, my husband doesn’t like it. He likes that I like my job, but he worries.”

That includes calm days and days full of tragedy like April 15. On Marathon Monday, a lot of transit police were around the area of the bombings, Carroll said, and they remained in place, attending to people until medical attention could take over.

“We were in it just as much as anyone else,” she said.

A mainstay of transit officer duty is dealing with intoxicated or impaired MBTA users, whether that entails alcohol, drugs or people with mental illnesses. It may also include people who have urinated or defecated on themselves.

“You have to deal with the smell and remember that they’re people with problems,” and get them to a facility that is equipped to deal with those issues, Carroll said.

The Roxbury Crossing substation is one of four substations in the MBTA network. The cozy facility, the base of operations for policing the southern end of the Orange Line, among others, has a few offices and resource rooms, as officers assigned there are not expected to spend much time inside it. Its exterior has recently been repainted to make it easier to identify from the outside of the T station.

Wentworth Campus Police

Sgt. Lemar Brown, a 16-year veteran of the WIT campus police, also grew up in the city and decided to dedicate his life to giving back to his community. After serving in the military and as a correctional officer in New Hampshire, he joined the force at WIT.

“I know what kind of trouble young people in the community get to,” he told the Gazette.

Like NU, WIT officers go on “ride-alongs” during the weekends to monitor and control students’ activities off campus and also to address “quality of life” issues.

A service WIT officers offer is looking over a student’s new off-campus housing for safety. Usually, they stay in the immediate neighborhood and check on locks and windows, safety of the home’s location and the like. But sometimes, the team could make arrangements to go farther away “if there are serious issues,” Brown said.

WIT officers also coordinate with NU officers, transit officers and BPD officers, and aim to have at least one joint training session a year.

“We all share the same issues, the biggest of which is making sure our students are safe,” he said.

And like other officers, Brown faces good days and bad. The worst days are when a student is hurt and it is the officer’s duty to inform the family, a sentiment echoed across multiple departments.

Good days, though, also sound similar: when an officer is able to make a connection and positively influence a student, from attending commencements, to helping a student from a small town navigate public transportation for the first time, to watching new prototype technology demonstrations.

“A recent graduate made a touch-screen display for police and fire departments and he invited us to look at it,” Brown said. It was a big improvement from the button-driven controls currently in police vehicles, he said.

Ultimately, Brown said he hopes the students learn from their brushes with police.

“We try to make sure it is an educational process. Their action will always have consequences,” he said.

Capt. Albert Sweeney at one of Northeastern’s commencement ceremonies. (Courtesy Photo)

Capt. Albert Sweeney at one of Northeastern’s commencement ceremonies. (Courtesy Photo)

Transit Officer Nora Carroll stands in front on the Roxbury Crossing substation, recently repainted to make it easier to find. (Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira)

Transit Officer Nora Carroll stands in front on the Roxbury Crossing substation, recently repainted to make it easier to find. (Gazette Photo by Rebeca Oliveira)

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