Settling into the passenger seat of a University Police Department cruiser, I fiddle with a camera, notebook, laptop and pen. To the left, Officer Chad Stutheit locks a rifle, logs into his computer, tests lights and sirens, and performs a radio check.
“One thing before we go out,” Stutheit said. “If I pull someone over and something goes bad, turn this dial one click to the left and let dispatch know we need help.
“Probably not something we’ll need to worry about — but, just in case.”
It’s still the fifth week in the UPD’s Citizens’ Police Academy and we’re rolling on a five hour, Friday night ride along at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Organized by University Police, the inaugural academy is designed to educate a 12-person cadre of student, faculty and staff volunteers about law enforcement activities on campus.
Following a passion
Driving out of the UPD parking area and onto Q Street, we start the night discussing Stutheit’s law enforcement career — which was spurred by 9/11 and delayed by family.
“I’ve been a police officer at the university for two years now,” Stutheit said. “Before that, I worked at Lincoln Industries for 10 years.
“It sounds like a cliché that you hear from others, but I’ve always wanted to do something that helps people. It just took me a little while to get here.”
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred at the start of Stutheit’s sophomore year at Lincoln High School. Like many other Americans, the event spurred a desire to help and set in motion a plan to become a firefighter or police officer.
Passing on a chance to run track or play football at a Division II college after graduation, Stutheit went to school to become a firefighter. Along the way he got married, had children and — to support his family — took the job at Lincoln Industries.
The desire to assist others remained strong and, after a decade at the metal finishing company — including work as a team leader — Stutheit applied to become a police officer. His application was approved by both the UPD and Lincoln Police Department.
“My wife is awesome and fully supported my decision because she understands my passion,” Stutheit said. “We were incredibly lucky to getting job offers by both the university and LPD. I selected the university because I really wanted to work with college kids.
“I thought it would be great to work with and help them during this pivotal time in their lives.”
Out on patrol
Working the nightshift provides Stutheit with a variety of opportunities to interact directly with students.
Our ride-along interactions include two large party complaints in residence halls, multiple minor in possession citations, a vehicle driving the wrong way down Q Street, two drivers who failed to turn on headlights, an amorous couple who failed to turn off headlights, and a 2 a.m. call about a construction cone heist.
Through each call, Stutheit and other UPD officers work patiently with the students and other individuals they encounter.
Believing some students are hiding during one residence hall room party, Stutheit and Sergeant Margo Nason coax the missing few out from under beds and inside closets. The search adds an extra 30 minutes to the call, but Stutheit, Nason and Officer Jeff Brassington remain patient and talk with the students about the potential consequences of evading police.
On another call, when a student who is upset about receiving a second citation on as many nights acts like he is about to bolt, Stutheit firmly tells him that running could bring a trip to jail. The student calms down and stays to receive the citation — though he continues to badger Stutheit and Officer Anderson Delgado.
A short time later, when a young woman standing on 16th Street shouts something about “keep moving” and “pig” at Stutheit’s patrol car, he keeps rolling — but laughs it off.
“No matter what they may say, our job is to remain professional at all times,” Stutheit said. “That kind of stuff really doesn’t bother me. I just don’t understand why someone would you want to draw attention like that.
“Enjoy the night. But, be smart about it and go home safely.”
End of the ride
Shortly before 2 a.m., Stutheit and Brassington, with the help of a community service officer, track the wandering path of a missing construction cone to a Greek house. After a few knocks on the door are answered, the officers request that the item be returned to where it was found. Minutes later, two young men shuffle out, dragging the cone down R Street.
“That is what we call the walk of shame,” Stutheit said.
Rolling back to the UPD station at 2:14 a.m., Stutheit is only a third of the way into a 15-plus hour shift (which is made longer by a home football game the following morning). As we dump confiscated alcohol down a drain, Stutheit talks about how happy he is to be an officer and working at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
“There’s something new to experience every day and working with students is always interesting,” Stutheit said. “And, I get to come here every day and work with a great team in keeping campus safe. To me, that’s the best part of this job.”
Editor’s Note — The Citizens’ Police Academy series wraps up next week with a Nov. 2 column about the UPD’s investigations unit and reflections from the first cohort to complete the session. Access other stories in this series. For questions or comments, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-472-8515.