How is a UCMPD police officer’s job different than a police officer at the City of Merced Police Department? (UCMPD officers are frequently asked if they are "real" police officers)
Seventeen out of eighteen of the sworn staff at UCMPD are lateral police officers from the City of Merced police department or the Merced County Sheriff’s Office. This provides our team with extensive knowledge of the greater community surrounding UC Merced. Each officer worked in a variety of roles, but all served as a patrol officer at one time. Merced PD and MCSO have an extremely large call volume on patrol and in Investigations. Patrol officers are dispatched to calls and frequently cannot complete the call to the community member’s satisfaction because of an in progress call involving an immediate threat of harm.
Merced PD officers and MCSO deputies evaluate each call to determine if there is a crime or if the issue of concern relates to another entity such as code enforcement, animal control, civil court, etc. If there is a crime, the officer investigates it, collects evidence, and determines the appropriate next step such as making an arrest or sending the case to a Detective in Investigations.
At UCMPD, the patrol officer is dispatched to calls usually relating to a student, staff member, or faculty member. Issues on campus and off campus are frequently intertwined with the University. Our police officers have less calls and more time to fully listen to the reporting party’s concern, collect evidence, thoroughly interview those involved, and to communicate with other stakeholders. A simple way to demonstrate the difference is when a student loses a laptop with months and years of research on it.
A UCMPD officer will respond to calm a frantic student down with empathy, check video surveillance cameras immediately, identify if a custodian retrieved the laptop for lost and found, communicate to IT (UC Merced Information & Technology) about ways to track the laptop on the UC network, and solidify if the laptop was turned in or stolen. UCMPD officers have recovered and returned numerous electronic items to those who experienced theft or accidentally left their property somewhere on campus. We utilize investigative techniques to access databases involving stolen property.
The bigger concern for our student is their research. The theft of intellectual property is a major concern for students and faculty. UCMPD has investigated several cases involving research. We work with EH&S, building managers, and faculty members on issues that arise after the laptop is stolen depending on what exactly was on the laptop. Our officers truly hear others when they are sick to their stomach about losing something priceless to them. It isn’t “just a stolen laptop.”
This example is not to say MPD and MCSO do not handle calls in the same manner. It is to demonstrate how the quantity of calls can impact how far an officer can focus on every case. It is impossible for our neighboring agencies to devote the same amount of time and energy to every case due to call volume. Most of our crimes require our officers to understand UC Merced specific information in addition to understanding elements of crime.
When Project 2020 was being built, the construction site was broken into. There was a cut hole in the fence and a tire track to the fence line at the time of the report. A construction truck was stolen along with over $25,000 of equipment. UCMPD officers worked as a team on the case. They were able to locate a drill at a pawn shop in Stanislaus County. The truck was burned, but recovered in an orchard in Livingston. Our team processed the truck for arson evidence.
The investigation led them to a residence where they conducted a probation search, recovered a sawed-off shotgun from a convicted felon, and to a hotel where they served a search warrant. UCMPD officers obtained surveillance footage and GPS ankle monitor data to identify the three suspects in the case. One has already accepted a plea bargain from the Merced County District Attorney’s Office. One suspect has an outstanding felony warrant for their arrest.
It is a myth that our UCMPD officers are “campus cops” with no “real policing” experience. Our team is made up of highly experienced and trained officers with years of service prior to joining the UCMPD team. UCMPD does not hire new officers directly from the academy because officers need to experience a variety of calls to be prepared and calm regardless of what they face at UC Merced. An example is if an officer has never investigated a death. If they are the only officer on campus and receive a call of a deceased person, it is critical they are prepared to maintain control of the scene and chaos that could take place.
How are policies created and changed at UC Merced Police?
UCMPD policy was created in 2005 with existing (UCOP) University of California Office of the President Policies on University policing. UCMPD utilizes Lexipol as the foundation of our policies. Lexipol ensures policies are constantly being updated in accordance with new laws and that policies do not contradict one another. Lexipol policies are researched and written by subject matter experts and vetted by attorneys.
Chief Her meets regularly with the University of California Police Chiefs from our sister campuses to discuss policy. He also meets with our UC Merced Police officer representative for the police officer union, (FUPOA) Federated University Police Officer’s Association to review policies. If a policy needs to be updated, Chief Her will consult with campus counsel, UCOP counsel, FUPOA, and other law enforcement agencies depending on the policy being discussed.
UC Merced campus policies https://policies.ucmerced.edu/
UC Merced Police department policies https://police.ucmerced.edu/DepartmentPolicies
New practices and procedures can be implemented at Chief Her’s direction through department memorandums and emails. This is done for community needs specific to UC Merced police responses. Calls may be handled differently or not handled at all on another UC campus. (Examples include protocol for responding to a lockout, public safety escort procedures, minimum amount of equipment to carry on a medical aid call, etc.) Practices and procedures change based on the needs of the University, community concerns, and risk/liability factors.
What complaints has UCMPD received the past five years? (Not everyone feels safe reporting concerns directly to the police department)
UCMPD has received three complaints in five years. We attribute that to our professionalism and willingness to go the extra mile for those we serve. Nationwide, it is common for community members to file complaints not on what was said, but HOW it was said. Tone, body language, and demeanor can negatively impact the community. UCMPD officers demonstrate kindness, empathy, and compassion when responding to calls and interacting with others.
It is our belief, our exceptionally low complaint record is due to those factors. Upon sharing this as a positive light to members of our community, concerns were expressed about how those who may have a complaint or negative experience are not being represented in the data because they do not feel comfortable sharing it with the police department.
We recognize comfort levels and trust is different for everyone and can be influenced by the type of complaint or which employee(s) the complaint is regarding. UCMPD complaints have been and still are accepted by a variety of departments such as:
UC Merced Ethics & Compliance
UC Merced whistleblower hotline
UC Merced Human Resources
UCOP University of California Office of the President
CA Attorney General’s Office
CA POST (Peace Officer’s Standards & Training)
If there is something that needs to be addressed, please do not hesitate to communicate it in the manner you feel most comfortable. UCMPD is open to feedback, willing to learn, make reasonable accommodations, etc. Safety is a community wide collaboration. We do not want anyone to feel intimidated, unheard, or dismissed. Your feedback is appreciated and important.
Are UCMPD officers “criminalizing” mental health?
Mental health calls are handled with the utmost sensitivity and compassion. Many of our mental health calls have involved students having thoughts to kill themselves and others. Some have had weapons ranging from knives to an AK-47. UCMPD officers responded to those calls with safety tactics. They de-escalated the situations and utilized their experience and knowledge about mental health calls to build a rapport with the students in crisis.
UCMPD officers follow the Welfare and Institutions Code of the California law. These laws mandate how sworn police officers must conduct welfare checks and involuntary hospitalizations. Due to these laws, some may feel police officers being present is criminalizing. Our goal is never to arrest or criminalize a human being needing to safely connect to appropriate mental health resources or a hospital for their well-being. In these situations, individuals are demonstrating they are no longer able to do this on their own.
Our officers respond to calls for service regarding concerns when a person is exhibiting they may be a danger to self, danger to others, or gravely disabled. If a student is demonstrating imminent danger, UCMPD officers transport students to mental health services for a psychiatrict assessment. In some instances, students have reached out to thank the police officer they built the rapport with during the call for service. UC Merced always assists students however they can.
Harmful rhetoric of “criminalizing” students is unwarranted at UC Merced. Nationwide there have been community members killed by the police on mental health calls. We hear our community when they express concern about the role police play when responding to a mental health crisis. Calls to UCMPD dispatch are generated from a variety of community members when they recognize a person may be in crisis. Police officers are trained to assess and handle mental health calls and connect them to the appropriate resources in the safest manner possible. Some calls may be of a student exhibiting emotions and others can involve weapons. Police officers are trained to de-escalate the situation to keep the individual and the community safe.
UCMPD has successfully mitigated calls of concern that have included, possession of firearms, knives, suicdial attempts with pills, injuries to roommates, destruction property, police officers are trained for those situations. Placing unarmed and untrained staff members in harm’s way will not keep anyone safe. UCMPD officers ensure those experiencing crisis do not harm themselves or others.
In addition to resolving these calls, our team of officers have built long term relationships with former students in distress. We have received text messages, phone calls, thank you cards, etc for how we cared for them during the worst day of their life. This includes students from a variety of scenarios above. UCMPD would like to have a greater dialogue on their experiences with mental health calls on and off campus. The term “criminalizing” is not accurate for UCMPD.
Each week our Sergeants serve in meetings with campus stakeholders to support students in a collaborative way. We work closely with our partners to support the well being of our students. These relationships allow us to connect students to the most appropriate resource for their situation. Taking this collaborative approach allows our departments to perform wrap-around care to ensure the students needs are met. This can include financial assistance, mental health services, housing, etc. We are blessed at UC Merced to have strong partnerships which allow us to provide the utmost care and quality of service.
The police officer uniforms are intimidating, why can’t we change them?
UCMPD is open to suggestions on uniforms that are not intimidating. We have to be identifiable as a police officer without question to those we serve. In a critical and chaotic moment, police officers must be identifiable. Mutual aid emergency responders need to recognize who we are as they are responding to help us. Police officers are looked at to establish order and a sense of direction during a crisis. Our uniforms allow us to do so. If we detain or arrest someone engaged in criminal behavior, it needs to be clear we are police officers. Our uniforms can also assist us with de-escalating situations with individuals causing harm because they can recognize law enforcement is present.
Officers must work outside regardless of weather conditions. Finding a uniform suitable for 110 degree heat and 30 degrees during rain season is a challenge. Our bulletproof vests add bulkiness to our upper torso. Wearing polo shirts with collars on top of our vests does not look professional.
Factors to be considered when changing a uniform for police work are color, durability, wrinkles, dry-clean only vs. washing machine, breathability, customizable options for anatomy, and price. Police officers receive an annual stipend, which is approximately $500 after taxes. Some uniform shirts and pants are over $120 each. UCMPD officers have invested in multiple uniform shirts and pants already with their uniform stipend and personal funds. Finding uniforms that balance these considerations is an ongoing struggle in law enforcement. We remain open to uniform suggestions that fit these criteria.
UCMPD attends extensive training, but what happens as a result?
The extensive training UCMPD undegoes enhances our service to the campus community in multiple ways. The trainings provide insight and awareness on issues our community members face. UCMPD staff is able to communicate in a unique manner because they have gained a deeper understanding of those we serve. Body language, eye contact, demeanor, and tone can all be misunderstood. Officers have learned about subtle communication differences that can have a huge impact on the contact being positive or negative. Training has allowed us to reflect on our own policies, procedures, and practices. We have implemented changes when we become aware of a better way.
Trainings also help us to identify additional trainings we need to attend. We invite UC Merced trainers to elaborate on certain topics. This allows us to ask questions pertinent to our campus. Hypothetical scenarios are presented as an opportunity to enhance learning from those who know our students, staff, and faculty best. We are always striving to identify those committed to helping us improve as a team. Engagement is crucial for maintaining and developing new relationships. New ideas frequently arise as a result of taking trainings. If you have a training suggestion for us, please contact us at this link:
Connection is lost as a result of COVID-19, so UCMPD is trying to add social media engagement posts for folks to interact with us in a fun manner. Humanizing our staff is very important to us. We posted our biographies for others to learn our stories. Our new hires are selected because they align with our department values. We only hire those who demonstrate they are willing to adapt and challenge themselves with career long learning. Becoming part of the UC Merced community happens quickly when our new staff members meet others through training opportunities. Conversations, ideas, and friendships are formed. Trainings are not "just to check a box." They are meaningful and guide us on our path of continuous growth.
Why do police officers put their hands on their belt and/or gun?
A police officer’s vest and duty belt is very heavy- approximately fifteen pounds. If you can imagine carrying around the weight of gym dumbbells on your hips and upper body all day! Police officers frequently have to adjust their belts regularly and find ways to stand comfortably without leaning on anything because they have to remain aware of their surroundings.
UCMPD officers are aware of community concerns about officers having their hand on their belt. Resting their hand(s) on the gear to the sides of their body may look like “their hand on a gun.” We understand this can be perceived as threatening or intimidating. Our intent is never to make anyone feel this way, we hear your feedback, and our officers are making conscious efforts in light of it.
Why do police officers need a firearm?
Police officers must be fully prepared to protect community members and themselves from those who utilize violence to harm and kill. The rates of gun possession and gun availability in our communities mean we must be prepared for threats that involve firearms. Each violent encounter in society has multiple factors involved.
UCMPD officers learn and prepare for as many of those violence indicators as possible. It is never our goal to create an atmosphere of fear on campus. Our job is to keep the campus safe and UC Merced officers have extensive publicly available policies, trainings, and accountability measures that come along with carrying a firearm.
Why should I report threats to the UC Merced police department?
Many of the threats to UC Merced have not been communicated to the community because the issues were immediately addressed and continuously monitored. Chief Her communicates to Senior Leadership daily about the status of these investigations.
Reports from the members of the community to UC Merced Police regarding possible threats are essential because they allow for immediate investigation to determine if it is a credible threat.
When there is an active threat to the community, you will be notified through UCM Alert unless you have opted out of receiving texts/emails for those situations. UCMPD adheres to CLERY guidelines for geography and types of crimes to send notifications on. (Please see pages 13-14 of UCMPD’s Annual security report for additional information.)
Who selects our police officers, dispatchers, and support staff to be hired?
First, all applicants are screened to determine if they meet the minimum qualifications listed in the job description. Then applicants are invited to a community interview panel where they are asked a variety of questions.
Hiring the most qualified and “best fit” employees requires input from a variety of stakeholders. Since the very beginning of our department (2005) we have engaged our partners in the hiring process. Some of our previous hiring partners include: Student government representatives, Housing & Residence education, Office of Student Conduct, CARE, Title IX, Office of Social Justice & Initiatives, Human Resources, Staff Assembly, Admissions, Library staff, Ombudsman, CAPS, Dean of Students, Valley Crisis center, and TAPS.
This collaborative model allows for others outside of law enforcement to gain a sense of who the candidates are, what they bring to UC Merced, and how they will contribute to safety on campus.
This diverse range of feedback helps us identify any potential issues on how a candidate will relate to those we serve. Serving the UC Merced community requires officers to have awareness on several identities, intersectionality, their own privilege, and demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion
For example, if student-housing staff sense the candidate is “cold” or “off-putting” they will voice concern about the individual responding as a police officer to a student reporting something “non-criminal” and potential that the officer could act dismissively.
A representative of Student Conduct may hear a candidate’s response raise concerns about a candidate’s willingness to learn the University policing model and look at other factors to re-direct the student besides an arrest.
Each panelist contributes to the hiring decisions.
What is the background process?
UCMPD transitioned to conducting our own backgrounds on candidates three years ago. We did so to more fully vet if the officer will most likely align with UCMPD values. Countless applicants, who were qualified in terms of minimum standards, were not hired.
Every employee at UCMPD must go through an intensive background prior to receiving a conditional job offer. The background begins with filling out a 25-page document. Applicants must relay very personal information about their lives. If the background packet is incomplete, the candidate will not proceed forward and will be disqualified.
The background investigator uses the document as a starting location to find out as much information as possible on a candidate. The investigator interviews current and past coworkers, supervisors, friends, family members, neighbors, etc.
Each candidate must list their previous residences. An investigator will contact the law enforcement agencies surrounding and including that location to see if the candidate was contacted in any capacity. Education and employment checks confirm the accuracy of the background check. Investigators also use fingerprint checks, credit checks, drug use, past legal issues, and vehicle information to research candidates. This process is lengthy and thorough.
Our hiring process, background checks, psychological exam, and medical exam help us to feel confident in who we are hiring before they even start their first day as a UC Merced police officer.
What is the field training program?
This is what we refer to as our “FTO program.” Officer Flores and Officer Lopez serve as field training officers. The officers bring years of law enforcement experience with them. They teach our new hire officers how to become a UC Merced police officer, adapt to University policing, and to form relationships with those on campus as an important part of the learning process.
Safety is a community wide collaborative. Sharing information, expressing concerns, behaviors, trends, intuitions, and data help paint the picture of what is going on at UC Merced. The more individuals who share their observations, the more UCMPD can respond quickly to topics of concern before they reach a level of harm to the community. The FTO focuses on understanding the University as a whole and the departments that must work together for safety.
Our FTO program is a minimum of eight weeks. Our training officers ensure our officer demonstrates the principles of community, adapts to the University, and is fully prepared for any call they receive. Once the officer successfully completes the field training program, they are released to solo beat officer.
This means they will be assigned a patrol car, a shift, and will respond to calls by themselves. We encourage all members of the community to help them adapt to the University by sharing what you do on campus and your experiences with UCMPD.