On quiet nights like this one, even Sgt. Geymone Butler's
police radio seems uncomfortable with the long bouts of silence.
Several messages trickle in over a two-hour period, as if
the radio is reminding Butler of its existence by occasionally
crackling with a call from the dispatcher.
down to sun up: As a member of the U of M Police Department's
"Charlie" team, Sgt. Geymone Butler patrols
an approximately 1,200-acre area from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The dispatcher's voice informs Butler of a student's complaint
about someone who is using the washing machine in one of the
Another student calls the campus police to ask for a ride
from one end of the campus to the other.
Later, a broken parking lot gate is reported.
"Things are winding down," Butler says, after delivering
a warning to the laundry room interloper with two other officers
and inspecting the severed gate.
As Butler surveys the streets, parking lots and shadows cast
by buildings, University of Memphis students huddle inside
their apartments, cramming for tests or writing papers during
finals week in late April. Outside, all signs among the roughly
1,200 acres the University of Memphis Police Department patrols
point to a low-key evening on this Tuesday night at 10 p.m.
Statistics also promise a relatively sedate night. The number
of crime incidents almost always decline near the end of the
spring semester, say officials at the U of M Police Department.
Moreover, the U of M just reported the lowest crime rate of
the 11 largest universities in Tennessee for 2003, and it
continues to implement numerous measures to stem crime.
Butler works on the "Charlie" team of the campus
police, which means his 12-hour shift will run through 6 a.m.
As Butler's patrol car travels the University streets, he
encounters mainly foot traffic as an occasional pair of students
with books in hand walks down the sidewalks.
Still, Butler knows the calm can give way to turbulence in
an instant, where routine service tasks of unlocking doors
for University employees may be interrupted by more dire matters.
"You're taught in the academy that things can go to heavenly
to hellish in a minute," says Butler. He's learned that
through years of experience on the job, which includes time
working as a corrections officer for the penal system in Henning,
Tenn., a police officer in Millington and a narcotics and
investigations officer for the Sheriff's Department in Tunica
Butler backs up his words with physical evidence. He points
to the back of his patrol car, which still bears signs of
damage from a recent incident. Around 3 a.m. on a mid-April
morning, U of M officers, including Butler, responded to a
disturbance call at the Richardson Towers dorms. According
to campus police reports, a male student refused to return
to his room and made threatening remarks to the officers as
he punched and kicked the dorm's walls and yelled obscenities.
After the student was placed in Butler's car, he kicked out
the right rear window and bent the doorframe, causing estimated
damages of $1,400. The student was charged with felonious
vandalism and put in jail.
Incidents like this one help keep officers like Butler sharp.
In turn, officers like Butler are helping the University keep
crime rates down. The most recent figures spotlight a department
that is making significant strides in controlling crime. According
to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's (TBI) Crime on
Campus Report for 2003, the U of M reported 24.8 incidents
per 1,000 people on campus, which vaulted it to the top spot
ahead of the 10 other largest universities in the state for
the first time in four years. That's slightly higher than
U of M's 22.9 incidents per 1,000 people in the University
population in 2002 when it scored the second lowest crime
rate. Bruce Harber, director of U of M Police Services (BPS
'91) says the reason for the difference in the year-over-year
figures is best summarized by TBI officials' explanation that
the gap was largely due to more accurate reporting methods
implemented throughout the overall system. In addition, Harber
says 2002 was an exceptional year for campus safety. "Crimes
that you normally would look for just did not occur,"
says Harber, who oversees the University's 30 state-certified,
Larceny and thefts remain the most common crimes on campus,
accounting for nearly 50 percent of offenses. The department
continues to add video cameras in academic buildings and parking
lots throughout campus, which has helped it arrest people
who have stolen property from buildings, Harber says. The
campus police also frequently communicate to staff, students
and faculty through e-mails and other means the importance
of locking car and office doors. "The way you prevent
crime is you let people know it exists," says Harber.
In October 2003, the U of M signed a mutual assistance agreement
with the Memphis Police Department that extends the campus
department's jurisdiction deeper into the communities surrounding
the University. As a result, the MPD now might refer calls
to the U of M police dispatcher, or area residents may call
the campus department, which may be able to respond more swiftly
to an incident. "From the citizen's standpoint, we should
be able to get there much quicker because we're so close,"
says Harber. The agreement also eliminates certain gray areas
concerning the legalities of department officers making police
arrests off campus property, Harber says.
Harber, director of U of M Police Services (BPS '91),
says the mutual assistance agreement his department signed
last year with the Memphis Police Department enhances
the flexibility of both departments in responding to calls.
Because this agreement shifts more responsibility to the
campus police, its drafted language specifies that the supervisors
possess the right to make a decision about whether or not
to handle a call. Factors depend on the severity of the event
and how swamped the campus police are with pressing matters
at the time, Harber says.
One incident that underscores the importance of the agreement
was a home invasion crime in late 2002. Three U of M officers
responded to an aggravated robbery/home invasion call. Several
residents met them at the apartment complex, and said they
had seen some men who did not live there enter one of the
units. When two night shift officers from the U of M arrived
they caught two suspects in the middle of a robbery, including
one who was hiding in the closet with a resident he had tied
up. A third man escaped out a window, but the MPD caught him
the next day. The University police were responsible for catching
the men who previously committed several home invasions in
In the wake of the agreement, U of M police also are working
on a joint venture with the MPD to establish a "mini
precinct" staffed by officers from each department on
nearby Highland. The initiative is currently referred to as
the "University Station" and is slated to begin
sometime during this fall, according to Harber. "And
this is part of the University's reaching out and helping
the community," he says.
Since the country's heightened security after 9/11, the U
of M police also have increased their role in protecting dignitaries
on campus. In March, Harber, deputy director Derek Myers (BA
'92) and another campus officer stood closely by as former
South African president F.W. de Klerk addressed an audience
at the Holiday Inn at the U of M.
with new resources
The department holds "CampuStat" meetings, in which
Harber or Myers present incident data from the most recent
week through charts in PowerPoint format. This method, which
the department adopted from a similar practice at the MPD,
helps shine a light on certain crime patterns. Through the
earlier method an officer might "read a stack of papers,
and maybe didn't see the problem," Myers says. A number
of officers and U of M staff members, representing areas such
as Greek Affairs to residence life, attend the meetings, which
also contain related information garnered from weekly MPD
U of M President Shirley Raines and Charles Lee, vice president
of business and finance, have directed additional resources
to the department over the last several years, recognizing
the importance of campus safety to the University's image.
About two years ago the force got five new squad cars to replace
older vehicles. Although U of M police still get paid about
30 percent less than officers at the MPD or Shelby County's
Sheriff's Office, their salaries were "bumped up"
some in 2003, Harber says.
"We're on the right road. It's just we've got to make
up for some prior years," Harber says. The work schedule
of 12-hour shifts is organized so that each officer basically
works seven out of every 14 days. This allows many of them
to bring in additional income through secondary jobs, many
of which are in a law enforcement capacity. The salary raise
has helped reduce officer attrition at the department, Harber
says. That, in turn, creates a trickle-down effect: Higher
retention rates translate to more experienced officers and,
by extension, a more effective force.
For Sgt. Butler, 14 years in law enforcement have helped
smooth out his more tempestuous demeanor of his early career,
yielding a more levelheaded, rational approach. He gives credit
to one primary mentor. "A lot of other people have helped
me along the way, but time is the best one," Butler says.