column: Before U-M had its own police team, AAPD rookies were happy to roam campus
Courtesy of Rich Kinsey
While the Ann Arbor Police Department was under contract by the university, they provided two patrol officers 24 hours a day and two detectives.
The patrol officers split their time. One of the patrol officers walked a foot beat on Central Campus while the other was assigned a car and patrolled central and north campus as well as the area around the University Hospital. At 11 p.m. the motorized patrol unit would pick up the beat walker and from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. the university car was a two-officer — or double — unit.
One of the university beat walker’s responsibilities was to report in at 525 Church St., which was the U-M Department of Public Safety’s headquarters at the time. Located on the ground level of the university parking structure, this was the mustering point for the university units of the Ann Arbor Police Department, U-M security officers, state security — which was a private security company also contracted by U-M — and liaison officers for both U-M Hospital security and U-M housing security.
The base at 525 Church, referred to on the radio as either “5-2-5” or “5-25” provided a much needed air-conditioned oasis in the summer for the overheated beat walker. Winter foot-patrol was not as bad because the Central Campus beat walker could always slip into a warm building to walk through, but in the 1980s few of the university buildings were air conditioned in the summer.
When the Central Campus beat walker arrived at 5-25, it was their job to take all the criminal reports generated on campus and transfer the information to Ann Arbor Police Department crime report forms. It was a tedious duty, but it was a nice diversion to get off your feet, out of the elements and inside for some companionship with the U-M officers.
Some fine university security officers were recruited into the Ann Arbor Police Department ranks in those days. The most notable was a sharp housing security officer named John Seto who rose to his current rank of Chief of the Ann Arbor Police Department.
Walking a beat on Central Campus was actually enjoyable and a good way to meet many of the local characters and downtown criminals who all seemed to gravitate toward the South State Street and North University Avenue corner of the Diag. Most days and evenings were rather uneventful, but not all.
I remember one late June or July evening in the middle of freshman orientation tours when three individuals got into a fight in the middle of the Diag. One guy was stabbed pretty badly by the other two, who just sauntered slowly away. A herd of freshmen at orientation happened onto the scene just after the victim had been stabbed.
The arriving freshmen were wide-eyed as their university conductors tried to shepherd them away from the crime scene, which quickly was filling with fire trucks, police cars and an ambulance. A U-M security officer and I caught up with the suspects who were still walking with that slow “I-don’t-really-have-any-place-to-be” swagger about a block from the wide-eyed freshmen and EMS action on the Diag.
A fun part of campus motor patrol was driving through the Engineering Arch in your police car. We all enjoyed driving across the Diag sidewalks, through the Arch and arriving at the corner of South University and East University. Those motorized expeditions across the Diag were in the evening and often times occurred when the car-assigned university officer picked up the beat walker.
No matter what the time, it always drew cranky and perhaps envious sidelong glances from pedestrians. The University finally tired of such shenanigans and put up pillars and other obstacles to prevent our motor tours of the “Engine Arch.”
The university similarly got cranky and installed obstacles when we parked near the western wall of the Modern Language Building to watch for motorists running the stop sign at Washington and Thayer streets. It was a great spot, and a lot of drivers would blow right through the east-west stop signs without even considering braking.
Another stop sign we watched, from the Chemistry Building loading dock, was at North University Avenue and Fletcher Street.
One night a university unit officer was shining his spotlight around the bushes on the Diag and happened upon a very magical place. The spotlight inadvertently lit up a light sensor, which controlled the streetlights and walkway lights on the Diag. The spotlight’s bright beam hitting the sensor mimicked the sun and caused the lights to turn off on the Diag. Spotlight on — Diag lights off, spotlight off — Diag lights back on.
The secret of the magical spot passed from officer to officer, each of which had to try their hand at the magical light switch. Some officers put on dazzling light show performances that went on for several minutes as they demonstrated the secret to the delight and amusement of the next officer to be let in on the secret of the magic switch.
While an amusing pastime for officers for a while, it was not until about 10 years later, when I was speaking to a U-M detective, that I learned that security officers would report the abnormality of the Diag lights to the U-M security dispatcher. On several occasions, dispatch called electricians to check for short-circuits in the steam tunnels running under the Diag.
Whoops, who knew?
I wonder if the Diag light shows or Engine Arch motoring tours had anything to do with the U-M starting their own police department?
Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbor.