“No One Solution:” A Problem With Trespassing On Campus

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Posted Thu, May 1, 2014

"It's something new every day": Officer Jason Skeen deals with the day-to-day issues resulting from the many people who visit the campus. [Photo by Tom Skelley]

“It’s something new every day.” Officer Jason Skeen deals with the day-to-day issues resulting from the many people who visit the campus. [Photo by Tom Skelley]

DENVER, Auraria Campus —  When most people think about trespassing, they usually think of a weather-beaten sign, draped in barbed wire, on an old hermit’s fence post. Many people don’t realize that trespassing is an issue that frequently affects the Auraria Campus.

Auraria Campus police officers have issued about 60 citations for trespassing since April of 2013, an average of five incidents a month. While there haven’t been any reports of any student, staff or guests of the campus being injured as a result of it, trespassing poses some risks for the Auraria population.

Crimes of Opportunity

The biggest risk? “Theft,” says Jason Skeen, a 10-year veteran of the Auraria Police Department. “A lot of it is just a simple crime of opportunity.” Skeen points out that many students leave bikes, laptops, phones and other items unattended and unsecured, even for a moment, creating the opportunity for a theft to occur.

Blaine Nickeson, assistant vice president of Campus Relations, agrees. In areas like the campus, with a constantly shifting population, “there are more crimes of opportunity, the laptop that’s been left sitting there or the bike that’s not locked well, but I  don’t think in general we see a real safety hazard caused by these folks.” Nickeson says that the key to dealing with trespassing and is finding a balance between welcoming the public to the campus and preventing crimes that can sometimes occur as a result of having so many people in one place.

Auraria is an open campus, and some buildings, such as the library and the Tivoli, are accessible to anyone in the general public. The campus’ central urban location also plays a role in drawing a diverse population to the area. “The campus is like a giant crosswalk for everyone downtown,” says Skeen. There are also unique features such as St. Elizabeth’s church, which offers a daily soup line for the hungry and homeless.

No Simple Problem

These factors add up to make trespassing a more complex situation than many would think. “You can’t just go and arrest everybody that’s homeless or transient,” Nickeson says, “Like the folks who are coming for the soup line, they’re coming because they’re hungry, not to commit a crime on campus.”

Those who are cited, and sometimes prosecuted, for trespassing on the Auraria Campus are usually people who have either been warned not to return to campus or people who have been officially banned from the campus, usually for committing a crime or series of crimes. “Folks get multiple opportunities to change the behavior,” Nickeson says, adding that when someone is arrested by the campus police it is almost always for a previously issued warrant, not simply for trespassing.

Trespassing is a problem that reaches beyond the borders of the Auraria Campus. “It’s a Denver problem, not just an Auraria problem,” Nickeson says, “it’s not a problem that has any one solution.”

Striking a Balance: "You can't just go and arrest everybody who's homeless," Blaine Nickeson, Assistant VP of Campus Relations. [Photo by Tom Skelley]

STRIKING A BALANCE: “You can’t just go and arrest everybody who’s homeless,” Blaine Nickeson, Assistant VP of Campus Relations. [Photo by Tom Skelley]

Initiatives such as the Denver Outreach Program and other state-sponsored efforts to combat homelessness are, in Nickeson’s view, steps in the right direction. Another policy that Nickeson and Skeen both see as helping to keep trespassing from escalating into more serious crimes is the presence of Neighborhood Community Officers. These are members of the community that know the neighborhood well and sign on to become unsworn security officers, providing a physical presence on the campus to deter crime. Nickeson believes that the “N.C.O.” program is working, though it is harder to document how many potential crimes have been prevented than the number of crimes actually committed.

Everyone Has A Role

Both Nickeson and Skeen also point out the role each student on campus has in preventing crimes of opportunity. Students can lock up their possessions, even if they will only be unattended for a moment. Students and staff can also make sure to be observant of their surroundings.

“We really encourage people to contact us,” Skeen says. Most incidents of a campus officer confronting a trespasser are a result of service calls from campus staff or students. “If you see someone who looks like they don’t belong here, call us.”

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Tom Skelley

About Tom Skelley

Tom Skelley is a freelance writer, photographer, drummer, husband and soon-to-be father, living in Aurora, CO. He moved to Denver in 1997 with nothing but his car, and he loves to sleep.

View all posts by Tom Skelley

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