Campus safety has been a question for a couple weeks now. UWM offers services like BOSS, emergency phones on campus and the SAFEWALK program. Safewalkers offer people escorts around campus and the surrounding neighborhood during every night of the week. But who are the safewalkers? How was their program started?
Sergeant Heather Maus is currently in charge of the Safewalk program at UWM. She says that they serve as the eyes and ears of the police department on campus. They carry radios and report any suspicious activity they may see directly to the police. Maus says that the safewalkers are very effective and that people will approach them.
“We adopted the program from the University of La Crosse,” says Craig Rafferty, another campus police officer. He has been a part of the police department at UWM for 23 years and oversaw the Safewalkers for some time. “La Crosse had problems with students walking away from campus inebriated, and into the park and the river.”
Since 1997, the bodies of UW La Crosse students have been found in the Mississippi River with alcohol in their systems. The last body was found in 2010. The SAFEWALK program originally started in La Crosse in 2005, and was adopted by UW Milwaukee in 2007, according to Rafferty.
Rafferty explained that safewalkers on campus is somewhat of a psychological tactic against potential criminals. He says with the increased presence of squad cars, police officers on foot, and eventually safewalkers, that criminals would be discouraged from going on to campus with the intention to commit crimes.
So who are the safewalkers? Erik Hendrikson is another criminal justice student and a safewalker. He says he thought that the job would look good on a resume and was deciding if the work is good for a future career. “I enjoy it, I like being a part of the police department and the community. It’s helping me decide on a law enforcement career.”
Safewalkers are also the police department’s way of reaching out to the community. “I think we bring more trust to the police department. Everyone comes up and talks to us,” Hendrikson says.
If a party near campus gets shut down by the police, the safewalkers help usher people out and offer escorts home. Blake Laufenberg is another criminal justice student who joined for similar reasons as Hendrikson. Laufenberg says, “We’re not looking to get anyone in trouble, we’re just making sure everyone is safe.”
Safewalkers will even help walk drunk students home if they notice that someone is inebriated. “As long as they’re not a harm to themselves, us and the community, we let them go as they please,” said Laufenberg.
“This is the perfect job for anyone looking into law enforcement,” Laufenberg says. “It doesn’t throw you directly in the field, but gives you a little taste for it.”
The SAFEWALK section of the UWM police website states that the department prefers student employees who want to use the program as a learning experience. Being a student isn’t required to apply, but the department hires between semesters.
The area also SAFEWALK programs on the Madison and Oshkosh campuses.