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Cal State Northridge’s Matador Program Maximizes Student Involvement

By Gregory Murphy, chief of police, California State University, Northridge Department of Police Services

Like many university and college police departments, California State University, Northridge (CSUN) Department of Police Services (DPS) is challenged to deliver top-quality service to our campus community by staffing constraints. CSUN DPS, in collaboration with the campus community, has had a long tradition of identifying and addressing quality-of-life issues and engaging in the community policing philosophy to address them.

As a campus and Los Angeles Valley community partner, we at CSUN DPS constantly seek opportunities to engage our student community in positive ways. To that end, we leverage opportunities to use student workers within the DPS. Our flagship student-worker program is the Community Service Assistant (CSA) Program, known in the community as Matador Patrol. The captain of the Special Services Division is assigned oversight of the program, which typically includes 30-45 students per semester. Based on its success, DPS plans to expand it.

Our first consideration with respect to the Matador CSA student-worker program is to ensure safety and appropriateness when determining which tasks student workers will carry out. Second, we are conscious of the fact that our student workers live, take classes with, and socialize with other students across campus, and we consider that carefully when determining the roles students will conduct. After considering the two previously mentioned factors, we look for ways and methods to benefit the student worker, the CSUN DPS’s mission, and, most importantly, our CSUN community.

We employ a multi-pronged philosophy that spans the areas of mentorship, education/internship, partnership, collaboration, and the force-multiplier effect.

The permanent CSUN DPS staff comprises sworn police personnel, parking personnel, public safety dispatch personnel, and administrative personnel. Each of these staff members contributes to determining the roles and tasks that student workers can carry out so they can provide opportunities to mentor student workers. While the assigned roles/tasks often are very specific in nature, the opportunities for our professional staff to mentor the student workers in many aspects of professional working life and the nuances of working in a full-service police department are primary. Because CSUN has a Criminal Justice Program as part of the university’s curriculum, there are many opportunities to provide mentorship for future practitioners within the criminal justice system.

The student worker program serves as a quasi-internship that affords participants the opportunity to learn by doing both operational and administrative duties. Our Matador CSAs are visible representatives of the DPS within the campus community as they perform their various roles/tasks. They understand and welcome that responsibility. To quote a recent graduate and Matador CSA, “Matadors want more than to just be heard; they want to be seen and acknowledged,” Analisa Martinez, Class of 2019. 

Adhering to the tenets of community policing, we value the opportunity to form partnerships with the many and diverse groups that make up the CSUN community; to that end,

our Matador CSAs are made up of a great representation of our campus community and provide us an advantage in identifying and seizing opportunities to form partnerships.

By establishing partnerships as part of routine operations, we find that we can leverage those partnerships in times of crisis to solve problems that impact the quality of life for CSUN students.

The student-worker program provides our department many opportunities to collaborate with students as we make decisions about matters that do and will have a significant impact on the student experience at CSUN. They serve as mini focus groups. Because the Matador CSAs are embedded within DPS, they are often the first stop for department personnel to get a pulse on student opinion about various issues with which the campus is dealing; naturally, this is a great advantage in making decisions about future actions. Additionally, as we collaborate with other entities on campus, we often have an advantage with inroads into the entity because of a student connection with a particular group or academic discipline.

Lastly, but certainly importantly, one of the benefits of the student worker program is the “force-multiplier” effect. As our Matador CSA Program continues to grow, we reap the benefits by having multiple eyes and ears around campus. The perspective we gain not only comes from the quantity of increased eyes and ears; rather, we gain immense high-quality insight by getting the “student perspective” on what is happening around campus and how DPS can best meet the needs of our students. 

One example of how CSUN benefited from this force multiplier effect during the spring 2019 semester was illustrated as we responded to a series of threatening messages being written on bathroom stalls. As we focused our response and investigative efforts on keeping the campus safe while at the same time attempting to identify the perpetrator(s), we assigned the Matador CSAs to conduct hourly visual inspections of bathroom stalls and document the condition of each stall for the duration of the semester. What we gained from that effort was the ability to narrow the window of the incident to within an hour in the event we had new occurrences of the threatening graffiti. This advantage allowed investigators to review pertinent video and conduct potential witness canvassing during a specific period of time, greatly enhancing our efforts to identify a suspect.

The roles and tasks assigned to Matador CSAs are many, and once we explain to them the importance of their roles/tasks, our experience has been that the Matador CSAs carry them out with great commitment and attention to detail.

We currently have two Matador CSAs in local police academies as trainees and some seek administrative careers here at CSUN DPS upon graduation.

To conclude this discussion, we identify some of the roles/tasks that our CSUN Matador CSAs carry out:

On-Campus safety escort

Matador CSAs run a program in which they respond wearing their Matador color polo shirt and provide walking and cart escorts for students who may be studying late into the evening and are uncomfortable making the solo journey back to their dorm or parking spot.

Usher at special events, such as graduation ceremonies

At some large events/presentations, our Matador CSAs provide usher-style assistance in seating patrons and guests or as “way-finders” around our campus for visiting groups and dignitaries.This service is a great assistance in preventing what could otherwise become a crowd management situation requiring very costly sworn police response.

Reception at DPS Lobby

Our lobby area has multiple functions: parking, live-scan, lost/found, and general information. Matador CSAs have proven very valuable in providing general information service to much of the foot-traffic that we get at the lobby, especially at the beginning of the fall semester when many students are unfamiliar with the campus.

Gate/guest check-in at residential housing

The residential housing at CSUN requires guests and residents to check-in during the late-night hours, as the campus is nestled within the greater community. This practice has proven to keep our student residents safer and to reduce property-crime incidents.  Matador CSAs are an essential aspect of this service, because over time, they become inherently aware of the status of individuals attempting to gain entry into the residential housing area. Because they work within DPS, they are outfitted with communication devices that allow them to summon sworn police who respond instantaneously.

Peer-to-peer education

At CSUN DPS, we provide a spacious workspace for the Matador CSA Program participants. The student workers benefit from this space because they can study and/or prepare for their shift and duties. But most beneficial is the interaction the Matador CSAs have with each other. Our program identifies lead CSA positions as well as provides the benefit of peer-to-peer education and counseling. The Matador CSAs generally bond very well and are eager to help each other become successful in the program and to achieve success in all endeavors, here at CSUN and beyond. Each year, the graduating seniors are acknowledged by the department.

Matador CSAs routinely take the opportunity while conducting safety escorts to converse with fellow students about DPS programs and services, as well as recruit for future CSAs.

ASSERT (Active Shooter Survival Education and Response Training)

The CSUN DPS recently launched a training program to educate constituents across campus on how to react in the event of an active shooter or, quite frankly, any act in progress that inflicts deadly or potentially great physical injury. Because this training is highly interactive and requires role-playing, we utilize Matador CSAs for a portion of this training, and it has proven to be yet another method to make our Matadors “seen and acknowledged. 

Even the selection process is an opportunity in which each candidate can learn about securing employment. The process is highly competitive and requires that the successful candidate deliver a stellar performance during panel interviews, undergo a comprehensive background check, and complete robust training that includes bike patrol techniques, the use of pepper spray, TIPS alcohol symptoms training, campus acclamation, and the basics of sign language for the deaf and hard of hearing, etc.

Finally, the CSAs are an integral part of CSUN DPS and there are promotional opportunities within the CSA Program as well as within the DPS for some of the CSAs who graduate from the university and elect to work in the criminal justice system.


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