Hartsock is one of several Department of Public Safety (DPS) security guards who pilot the Nite Ride vehicle. This DPS service, introduced in 2007, allows women to request a free, safe ride home to their residence halls or apartments within certain geographic boundaries. The academic route runs from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday, while the weekend route runs from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The academic route is cell-phone dispatched (319-384-1111), while the weekend route picks up at the intersection of Clinton and Washington streets.
Hartsock, who received a degree in criminal justice from Kirkwood Community College and has worked for DPS for six years, sees the program as win-win—students can get home safely, and the program has helped dampen the stereotypical view that all law enforcement professionals are “out to get you.”
The Nite Ride service isn’t a “drunk bus”—there are guidelines for riding the service, correct?
Absolutely. We’re trying to stay away from that “drunk bus” impression. Weekend drivers can refuse students who are too intoxicated, and drivers on the academic route won’t take anyone who has been drinking any amount of alcohol.
We’ve been doing the academic route for a while now—we continue to field more calls for that route as word spreads across campus. During the weekends, when we stage at Clinton and Washington streets, we’re taking home anywhere from 60 to 100 riders a night.
All the guards rotate through the driver’s seat. We take a driving test and a written test. It’s a change of pace from patrolling, and I get a great deal of satisfaction from it.
What about this role is particularly satisfying?
It reiterates that safety is our top priority. The stereotype that is attached to law enforcement jobs is that we’re “out to get you.” But with Nite Ride, female students are able to feel comfortable with us—they don’t feel threatened by a person in uniform. That comfort level, that level of understanding, it carries over to our patrols. People look at us with trust and comfort. It’s good for our department.
Men are not allowed to use this service—have you had any problems with guys wanting a ride home?
Occasionally on the weekends, we’ll hear a complaint, but they’ll move on. One time a guy tried to hide his face and enter the vehicle—he was kindly asked to leave. Generally there’s a basic understanding that it’s a service for females, and most guys are cool with that.
What sort of advice do you have for students regarding safety measures?
Walking in groups is always the best thing. Young women should have a friendly male presence with them if possible. Staying in well-lit areas and being aware of one’s surroundings are important. People aren’t always paying attention when they’re talking on the cell phone or listening to music.
It’s helpful to carry certain items. Nite Ride is giving out keychain flashlights, and the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, with support from the Parents Association, recently gave away whistles to women in the residence halls. Carrying small cans of pepper spray is another measure that can be taken.
Parents should tell their students that approaching Public Safety officers is a good idea. If students have questions, they should not hesitate to ask us.
What are other aspects of your job? Is this the kind of work you’ve always wanted to do?
On average, I work a four-day workweek. Three of those nights, I’m on residence hall patrol. A fourth night involves a walking route. The University is split up into certain areas; we patrol the exterior of our assigned area, and the interior of some buildings.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into law enforcement until I got out of high school, but when I was younger, I was definitely fascinated with the profession. I’m from Grandview, Iowa, near Muscatine, and my dad was a good friend of the Louisa County sheriff—I always looked up to him. That certainly had a role in my decision to pursue my degree.
If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
Can we have golf carts, so we don’t have to walk so much?
Actually, I wish we could shed the stereotype I mentioned earlier, that we’re out to get people. We’re honestly just trying to keep people safe. I don’t take it personally when students drink too much and then decide to be wise guys with us, but it is frustrating. Luckily, I’m easygoing—we have to have that mentality to do this sort of job well.
by Christopher Clair