IU police officers have to be in the parking lot across the street from Memorial Stadium by 11:30 a.m. on football game days.
Part-Time Officer Conner Dunn directs traffic on 17th Street and Fess Avenue, signaling to cars to wait or pass through the intersection.
He waves for a man and his dog to cross, and as the dog passes by, he strokes its back.
“I’ve kind of got a personality like a dog,” Dunn said.
Even with cars speeding past him, Dunn is approachable and sociable. When vehicles aren’t whizzing by, he talks to people passing and slaps high-fives.
One of the first lessons officers are taught is how to be patient and personable.
At the same time, though, his patience for those who are pulling to the side of the two-lane road to let passengers out is wearing thin.
“Come on,” he says in the general direction of the offenders. “You guys are killing me with this shit.”
During the last few years, the public’s opinion of police officers has shifted. What was once seen as a friendly face doing good work for the community is now a uniform garnering mistrust.
In spite of the seemingly never-ending flood of horror stories about people being brutalized by the police, new officers at IU continue to train for and enter into a line of work whose importance they believe in. Cadets and part-time officers inside of IU’s Police Academy are rising to the challenge of changing the way people today see police.
Dunn said people tend to get annoyed with the badge. They spit insults at the person that are intended only for the uniform.
“You hear it,” he said. “You feel it. You can’t just turn that off despite what people say.”
Young officers like Dunn must learn to balance their authority with their personality as they work their way through the academy.
Dunn said people do not recognize officers for who they are. Officers have to learn to remove themselves from the uniform and its baggage.
“They don’t take your personality into account,” he said.
He wears his dark blue uniform as armor during work hours. After that, though, he goes home, trades the uniform for street clothes and returns to a relatively normal life of homework and video games.
“I always stress that we’re normal people,” Dunn said. “I’ve been pushing that since day one.”
Dunn tried to get out of the driver’s seat of his car without first removing his seatbelt. He was unsuccessful and blamed the incident on his bulletproof vest which makes it nearly impossible for him to know if he is strapped in or not.
He is working during fall break in the Central Neighborhood of dorms with fellow PTO Danielle Stigers. Nobody is expecting much activity.
A street usually bustling with students leaving dorms to find parties is empty tonight. The air is cold, but that isn’t what is keeping people indoors.
The officers fill the night’s silence talking about their lives out of uniform. Both said they rarely discuss their job when topics like classes or friends bring them far less unwanted attention.
“I don’t tell people that [I’m an officer],” Dunn said.“I don’t want people to know for my safety.”
Stigers said she accidentally brought her work up in a Spanish class. Conversation instantly shifted to from Spanish to English as the interrogation began.
The two most common questions, Stigers said, per usual, were “Do you arrest people?” and “Do you carry a gun?”
Yes and yes.
In a way, Dunn said, people make policing more than it is. He said it is just him in a costume that takes about 10 minutes to put on properly.
“We don’t think we’re anything that special,” Dunn said.
The shift continues as the temperature drops. Dunn begins to scout out warm places to stand in the winter and ease the discomfort of a long night shift in the snow.
Most of this shift, like every other one, will be made up of walking. A close second to walking, Dunn said, is standing still, followed by taking a break. The smallest percentage of time is dedicated to taking calls.
As new officers, Dunn said they don’t expect to get much action, which is to their benefit. Despite the badge and the gun, PTOs are still learning their trade.
Law enforcement is a reactionary profession, Dunn said. Doing things like walking dorm shifts is their attempt at becoming more proactive.
Dunn and Stigers approach the southern part of their perimeter and spot PTOs David Wilson and Drake Maddix patrolling the Southeast Neighborhood.
“Oh shit! It’s the police,” Stigers shouts at them.
The four officers gather behind trees near the Wright Education Building and share hot chocolate from the thermos Stigers has been carrying. The drink is much warmer than they anticipated after walking around for hours, almost too warm to drink, so they pass it back and forth, taking small sips. It has to last them all night.
Dunn started to comment on the lack of activity but stopped himself. He didn’t dare use the “Q” word to note that the radios had barely made a sound. It had been quiet since they arrived for duty.
They discuss fellow officers, their feelings on pumpkins and the odds of getting a job, passing the time until the radio crackles to life and calls Stigers and Dunn to Union Street Center.
The dispatcher said a woman had been smelling marijuana for about 30 minutes in her Pine Hall apartment.
After walking up four flights of stairs to where the complainant’s room was located, both officers began sniffing the air.
She let Dunn and Stigers into her apartment where the smell of marijuana in her bathroom was overwhelming. Stigers figured the smell was coming through the vents, so she and Dunn left the apartment to check the floors below.
Dunn admitted to Stigers he couldn’t smell anything in the bathroom because of congestion, but he still tried to locate a scent, pressing gently on doors while holding his thumb over the peep hole to keep people inside from seeing him.
Stigers said pushing on the door creates a slight air current, making it easier to detect smells from the outside.
After sniffing every door on every floor, Dunn and Stigers agreed the complainant called too late.
“Man, I’m kinda bummed,” Stigers said as they left.
For the sake of being thorough, they walked the perimeter of the building. Still, they found nothing.
Dunn radioed in an FTL, or failure to locate, and all four officers found each other again.
The four perk up — they smelled marijuana. Maddix and Wilson started tracking the smell on their side of the imaginary neighborhood borders.
While they were investigating, Dunn and Stigers walked over to what is known as the “Doobie Den,”an offshoot of a building in the Central Neighborhood.
Inside this closed down section of building, cigarette butts were scattered on the floor. Though it is a popular location, tonight it is vacant.
As the temperature continued to drop, and Stigers and Dunn decided to return to their personal cars for their jackets. Stigers pointed out that she and Dunn had begun stepping in time, an old habit from the academy, impossible to break.
They settled on sitting in Ashton Residence Center. Once inside, Dunn made himself comfortable, flopping across four chairs pushed together and throwing his feet up.
“I can’t believe you are sitting in there right now,” Stigers said to Dunn, appraising his peculiar positioning in the nest of chairs.
After a few minutes, their radio comes alive again. This time, though, it’s good news. Maddix said he and Wilson were back by the Education Building and had brought food.
The officers met up and passed around a bag of pretzels and a box of Chicken in a Biskit as they talked through the end of their shift.
On a night like this, when campus is deserted, there isn’t much else for the officers to do but be around in case they are needed.
However, even a night like this one is a learning experience. PTOs realize not every night is action-packed.
At 2:40 a.m., they parted ways and returned to their cars to go to the station and clock out. Another night shift draws to a close.
Inside Memorial Stadium, Dunn stands at the top row of section 27, almost lined up with the 50-yard line.
He seems unaffected by the atmosphere.
“I don’t follow sports, which is lame,” he says. “But I like video games.”
Instead of the game, Dunn listens intently to his radio, where word of a tailgate getting out of control comes in from the parking lot.
He hopes to be called down as a part of a response team, but isn’t. A chance at action goes to somebody else.
“I’ve only taken action on a couple things ever,” he said.
After some time in the stands, Dunn breaks for food. He walks deep into the stadium and opens a door marked, “Law Enforcement Only.”
Inside, the overhead projector is showing the game in front of a buffet line, all provided for the officers by IU Athletics.
The officers sit in relative silence, mainly paying attention to their food, their cell phones and the game.
When his break is over, Dunn readjusts his jacket and radio. He takes the stairs back up to the main level of the stadium and stands on the ground floor with another officer as long as he can before he worries he may be spotted by a supervisor.
Back in the stands, Dunn opens the Velcro on one side of his bulletproof vest for a moment. A sigh of relief escapes him.
The halftime entertainment doesn’t interest Dunn either, and because of how late the game is, he will have to report back to the station as soon as it ends to begin his night of dorm shifts: a lesson in the long days and longer nights on the job.
He and two other officers stand together, swapping stories about coworkers. Though they are on duty, they are still people.
Dunn graduated from IU in December with degrees in criminology and sociology. Now, he said, he is playing the waiting game.
He moved from being a PTO to being an auxiliary officer, working part time but no longer a student at IU.
“I want to give as much as I can to the department if and when I leave,” Dunn said.
He said IUPD is hiring during the semester at a rate far higher than usual. Though he can’t be entirely sure, he has heard that as many as three times the average number of positions will be available this year. He said he would be happy to stay here in Bloomington.
Along with having applied for a full time position at IU, Dunn said he also applied to work with two other departments, one near Bloomington and the other near Indianapolis. Each application process began in the fall.
Regardless of which department it is, Dunn said he is likely to take whatever job he gets first.
“I’m scared both ways,” Dunn said.
Both staying with IUPD and accepting a job elsewhere would require a major change for Dunn, though he has more familiarity with IUPD.
“I love my home agency,” he said.
Looking retroactively at the academy, Dunn said he gained the tools needed to develop into an officer. It taught him how to be the kind of professional he wanted to be and gave him a department to call home even after his first rounds were behind him.
“IU is where my heart is,” he said.
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