Four police agencies keep Fresno State students safe

A university police patrol car parked outside the Henry Madden Library. The university police department is one of one of the four police agencies with jurisdiction on or around Fresno State campus. (Seth Casey/ The Collegian)

Fresno State’s Campus Police Department isn’t the only line of defense in keeping the campus and nearby communities safe.

The university’s location places it within the shared jurisdiction of four distinct law enforcement agencies. They are: the Fresno State Police Department, Fresno Police Department, Clovis Police Department and the California Highway Patrol.

Jurisdiction of the campus itself is generally the responsibility of the campus police. However, the nature and severity of a crime may require another agency to assume command of particular cases and investigations, according to Amy Luna, emergency operations manager at Fresno State.

Luna noted that the Fresno Police Department has more extensive resources and a larger staff of officers than the department on campus, despite the campus department’s ever-increasing size.

The Fresno State Police Department has increased the number of sworn officers during the 14 years of Chief David Huerta’s tenure from 11 filled positions to the 27 officers that now protect the campus, Luna said, far less than the 812 officers Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said were currently on the Fresno force.

While police response times on the campus are actually some of the fastest in the city, according to Dyer, the crossing boundaries of the different agencies may give rise to other complications.

“When they call 911, sometimes there’s some confusion about who has responsibility,” Dyer said. “Within the city of Fresno — within that geographical boundary that we have — we have several of what’s called county islands.”

These county islands include Mayfair, Fig Garden, Calwa and Fresno State, all of which are small areas within Fresno city limits. County islands are generally under the jurisdiction of the Fresno County sheriff’s office, or in the case of Fresno State, campus police.

There are instances in which, depending on the severity and potential danger of a crime, Fresno police may respond to calls in these areas, and according to Dyer, may even arrive on scene faster than the sheriffs.

On Fresno State campus, the uncertainty of jurisdictional authority may be compounded by the fact that, according to Luna, only landline emergency 911 calls are directed to campus police, while calls from cell phones are directed to Fresno city police.

“Because of our proximity to the city of Fresno and the freeway, 911 calls on campus that are from cell phones go to Fresno PD first,” Luna said. “If Fresno PD’s 911 center received a call and someone said they had an emergency and they were in the library at Fresno State, then they would transfer that call to our 911 line.”

On campus, Luna said that university police utilize specialized resources to respond to emergency situations on campus as quickly as possible, such as electric motorcycles. Luna said these electric vehicles have zero emissions, meaning they can even be used indoors to access locations faster than would be possible on foot.

Luna also added that although the campus’ geographic footprint is only 388 acres of developed area, the university’s facilities amounts to over 3 million total square feet.

To increase the department’s coverage and presence on campus and the surrounding neighborhoods, Luna said it has developed strong partnerships with the other local agencies to more comprehensively secure the campus.

According to Luna, Fresno State’s police department has a well-established working relationship with the Fresno Police Department, and both cooperate to ensure adequate coverage and prompt response times to incidents on and around the campus.

This cooperation includes joint security efforts at campus events with large attendance numbers, such as university sporting events and concerts at the Save Mart Center, Luna said.

According to Luna, the campus police have jurisdiction in the areas that surround the school.

The areas around the campus have not always had a reputation of being safe. Luna said one nearby neighborhood, known as El Dorado Park, has been a notoriously problematic area. She said that the university received a grant from the city several years ago to revitalize the area.

Campus police partnered with the Fresno Police Department and, after a couple years of regular police patrols through the neighborhood, Luna said it has made a visible improvement.

There are still neighborhoods near the university that have yet to experience such a positive change. One such area is the neighborhoods south of Shaw Avenue near the University Inn.

Luna said that campus police have been working with the management of the inn to implement stricter rules. The campus police have also concerted their efforts with Fresno police to maintain a constant presence in the area.

Even with a greater law enforcement presence and increased response times, the safety of Fresno State students is not guaranteed. An article in The Collegian newspaper at Fresno State reported a robbery in which a student was pushed to the ground and their cell phone was stolen in the campus’ P6 parking lot in broad daylight.

According to the 2019 Campus Safety Plan published by University Communications, there were only five reported violent crimes on campus between January and December of 2016. However, during that time, there were 154 reported thefts and 104 counts of destruction of property.

Luna acknowledged the inevitable persistence of crime. According to Luna, the campus police’s main focus is displacing crime, not eradicating it entirely.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to crime, what you do with it is you displace it and kind of push it,” Luna said. “The bad guys don’t stop doing bad things, they just look for other areas to go.”

Despite all the complications of bordering jurisdictions, Luna asserted that the working relationship between campus police and the Fresno Police Depart is a positive one, and both agencies cooperate to ensure that safety and security are maintained for the Fresno State community on and around the university.

Dyer said that he believes the coverage and effectiveness of each department is strengthened through cooperation and support.

“The word separate doesn’t cross my mind,” Dyer said. “The word that comes to mind is how do we partner on both sides.”

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