Q&A with Safety and Security officer Stephen Sampson

The Dartmouth rode along with Safety and Security on a patrol around campus, learning more about campus security, Greek life and a day in the life of an officer.

by Isabelle Han | 2/21/23 5:05am

by Katelyn Hadley / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Patrol officer Stephen Sampson has worked in the Department of Safety and Security for more than 15 years. The Dartmouth jumped into his patrol car for a ride-along as Sampson described the job and his observations as a security officer on campus. During the ride-along, he drove through the entirety of Dartmouth’s campus — from the Connecticut River to Thompson Arena to A Lot — while on the lookout for anything that might impact the wellbeing of students on campus. 

What does your typical day look like? 

SS: At the beginning of our shift, we have a half hour shift briefing when our sergeant goes over everything that’s happened since we were here last — kind of a summary of what happened. We then come down to the cruiser to do what we call a “cruiser check” of all the lights, the laptops, our equipment in the back — like the fire extinguishers — and making sure there’s no damage to the vehicles. Then we start on a random patrol throughout campus. When we’re not patrolling in the cruiser, we could do foot patrols. We can go into buildings and walk around. And then we obviously go to any calls that come in throughout the shift.

What is the difference between a day and a night shift? 

SS: The number of calls and the different types of calls. During the day, we’re doing a lot of medical transports, such as for people who are on crutches. At night, you get calls like unlocks and Good Sams. One of the big differences from day to night is that the night shift has almost no resources. During the day shift, everybody’s here — all the counselors, the Facilities, Operations and Management staff. At night, it’s very limited: It’s us and a couple of nurses. We have a bunch of people on call who we can reach out to at night, but they’re not readily available compared to the day shift.

How often do calls come in? 

SS: It’s so random. We can go on a 10-hour shift and never have a call. But then the next day, you could have 10 calls in an hour. 

How have the concerns of Safety and Security evolved over the last couple of years? 

SS: One of our biggest things is the welfare checks. We do a lot more of those than we ever used to. I feel like when I started 15 years ago, we almost didn’t do anything related to mental health. I also feel like partying has slowed down a lot on campus. When I first started, we were super busy with parties and intoxicated students, that kind of stuff. Now, it seems like it’s really slowed down.

Do you think COVID-19 is related to that slowdown? 

SS: No, it slowed down before COVID. I think everything’s kind of back to normal as far as the frat parties.

Which shifts do you prefer? 

SS: My favorite shift is the evening shift. I feel like it’s the busiest. Time goes by quicker. It’s a fun shift for me to work.

What keeps the job interesting? 

SS: I like not knowing what’s coming. A call can be anything — it can be as simple as an unlock, to a transport, to a bomb threat or something worse than that. It’s always up in the air of what it possibly could be. 

Are there any trends you’ve seen in terms of Greek life on campus? 

SS: Besides the parties slowing down, nothing else has really seemed to change. When you go down to the basement of a party, there used to be hundreds of people in the basement on a Friday night. I don’t work Friday nights, but I know from talking to some of my co-workers that they’re nowhere near as busy as they used to be. I don’t know what brought that on. It was just a culture change over the years. 

What are some of the reasons why you would go into a Greek house? 

SS: We go into Greek houses once a week for a safety visit. We check the fire extinguishers and make sure nothing is blocking the exits. Party checks depend on how big the party is. We can go in an unlimited number of times — if we see concerns we can keep going in to try to deal with those concerns. We don’t go out of our way to go into a frat, so usually we only go in if there’s an issue or if the brothers or sisters invite us in for any reason.

Some students believe that Safety and Security targets Greek organizations — would you say that this is true? 

SS: Not at all. We are definitely not out to not out to get them. We’re not there to get anybody in trouble. It’s more work for all of us — it’s more paperwork for us, it’s more report writing. It’s more everything for everybody involved. We’re out there for the safety of the students. If we see a frat doing something that’s unsafe, we have to step in. 

How do you respond to calls involving intoxicated students? 

SS: Now that Dick’s House is open coming out of COVID, it gives us another option. We always respond by evaluating the student. The Dartmouth EMS responds to intoxicated calls with us. Then, the group of us make a decision of what we think is best. If we think we can get the person to Dick’s House, that’s the preferred method. They go to Dick’s House, they spend the night there and then in the morning they get released. If the person is so intoxicated that we can’t get them to Dick’s House, then we have no choice but to call an ambulance. 

Would you say there are a lot of thefts on campus? 

SS: Yes, we definitely have a lot of thefts. Whether it be a jacket, a laptop, a backpack or a bike — which account for a huge number of thefts. 

When you’re in town, what is the distinction between the jurisdiction of the Hanover Police Department versus the jurisdiction of the Department of Safety and Security? 

SS: The only jurisdiction we have is on Dartmouth’s property, whether it be in our buildings or on the land of our property. Besides that we don’t have any jurisdiction, such as on the town sidewalks. We keep an eye out on stuff. If we see something unsafe on a sidewalk, we notify the Hanover police. But there’s nothing that we can do to intervene with something happening on the sidewalk on Main Street.

What made you decide to come to Dartmouth? 

SS: 15 years ago, I knew a bunch of people at work here. Many of those same people still work here. And they told me how great of a place it was to work here, the pay, the benefits. Everything is great about it. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.