Safety first

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Joe Tritschler empowers students to take role in their own safety.

As the father of a current undergraduate student, Northern Arizona University Police Department (NAUPD) Officer Joe Tritschler takes his responsibility for ensuring the safety of university students very seriously. The community relations officer for the 18-officer department, Tritschler spends much of his time traveling across campus and talking to staff and students about safety. To Tritschler, safety starts with education.

“The role of the police department here is obviously to enforce the laws, and to do that in a quality manner,” Tritschler says. “But, on top of the normal law enforcement services, we also do a lot of educational programming to help students adapt to the university setting and understand what they can and can’t do.”

A positive engagement

Although the NAUPD meets the toughest law enforcement standards in the world and ranks among the top police departments in the state, it is not a typical organization. Being based on campus means that Tritschler and the other officers serve as both law enforcement and educators.

“We try to help out as much as we can,” Tritschler says. “We’ll help out with school projects, give interviews, and grant ride-along requests, because education is important to us as well as your safety.”

Ultimately, Tritschler explains, officers want to have a constructive influence on students. “We always want a positive contact,” Tritschler says. “Sometimes, we can’t have that, but we can still make it as positive as we can under the circumstances.”

With this goal in mind and flanked by student university safety aides, Tritschler treks all around campus, giving presentations on topics ranging from the dangers of winter driving – “Don’t go 50 on ice,” he says – to situations involving active shooters. Tritschler warns his audiences that while such events are horrific to think about, it is better to be prepared for them than to pretend they can never happen.

Tritschler says that he and other officers regularly make trips to the various residence halls on campus to bring their message about safety to the students.

“We do presentations inside the dorms. We have a hall-watch program, where officers go out and talk to the students where they live and let them know how they can be safer.”

Being a police officer on a college campus, in many ways, is a unique experience for the officers who work in NAUPD. Tritschler says he finds it enjoyable that he can both keep students safe and help them learn.

“We want to try to help them achieve their goals, in terms of an education, but also enable them to safely experience life along the way,” Tritschler says. “That’s what it’s all about: helping students enjoy their time here as they learn.”