Proposed patrol to keep students safe

The University’s Division of Student Affairs Office is heading an initiative to form a river patrol for the campus and surrounding areas.

The proposed river patrol, headed by Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Beth Hellwig, is still in the planning stages, but would consist of volunteers and patrol during times where students are more active near the river, like Thursday through Saturday nights.

The goal of the patrol is to minimize the risk to students near the river, particularly students who are drinking, and act as a preventative measure.

The patrol would supervise bridge users, not rescue people in trouble. Ideally, the volunteers would be identifiable, and have whistles and cell phones to alert police when in need of assistance.

Hellwig said the idea for this patrol came out of ongoing efforts to educate students in safety around the river, especially when alcohol is a factor.

“I think part of what we’re going to want to do is promote awareness and understanding of the river,” Hellwig said.

The Division of Student Affairs will be working on the project with several other groups and organizations, including the Center for Alcohol Awareness and Education, campus and Eau Claire police and Housing and Residence Life.

River patrol groups will also seek volunteers from student groups and organizations.

Sergeant Christopher Kirchman, of the UW-Eau Claire Campus Police, said working with other groups on campus and in the city would make river surveillance easier for campus police and their student patrol.

Campus police don’t have the power to patrol areas like Owen Park or the Hobbs Center. A multi-group river patrol could cover more ground and more river entry points.

Kirchman said river patrol efforts help address a larger problem: alcohol safety.

“The more it’s publicized that we think (the problem) is serious enough, or the university thinks it’s serious enough, that brings awareness to the student body,” Kirchman said. “(It) opens their eyes to say, ‘OK, maybe there is a problem and maybe I have to think about this a little bit more.’”

Kirchman said the current student patrol has encountered many intoxicated students around the river that police decided were at risk. Having a specific group focused on the river would be a positive addition to the campus, she said.

Eau Claire senior Elan Mccallam said she also thinks the idea of a river patrol has merit. She said she remembers several past river incidents, and it’s something that needs to be addressed.

“Students volunteering to keep other students safe,” Mccallam said, “I think that’s actually a very splendid idea.”

Patrol planning will continue through fall semester, with a tentative kick-off this spring. Hellwig said she hopes students will notice when patrols start, and see it as a reason to be more aware and more connected with each other.

“I think one of the things we want to promote too is just watching out for each other,” Hellwig said.