Exponent Explains: The University Police Department

The University Police Department (UPD) facilitates services from parking to unruly students. For most, though, the lobby is all that is seen. While a broad range of interesting conversations take place within earshot, like a student begging to remove a citation, or someone trying to buy an R5 parking pass mid-semester, the small lobby fails to show the enormous size of the whole department. With a few chairs, some computers and a ticket window for communicating with staff members, the office seems small. However, a step behind the locked doors reveals just how significant and involved the department is.

On a tour of the department, Police Chief Robert Putzke showed off the positive pressure evidence room and their interrogation room, complete with audio and visual recording. “We’re a fully functioning 911 center,” said Communications Safety Officer Supervisor Brian Boehm, standing around large workstations with multiple monitors. Further in the bowels of the building is the changing room, with bathrooms for the 20 full-time police officers and six part-time parking services officers, and the emergency operations center, which boasts multiple feeds, like TV stations, and the ability to view dash camera footage live from a patrol car.

Officer Randy Schmautz best described the Huffman Building (home of the UPD) as a “hub of activity.” However, what activity is the focus of the department? “Our job is providing a safe environment so that you can do those things that the university provides you,” Putzke said. “Safety and security is our number one priority.” However, he added, “We are not just a tool to bring out when there is a problem. We are a part of the community.” The department aims to bring this idea of community into their policing as well. Their adopt-a-cop program pairs officers with residence halls, so students see the same officers every day, and even eat lunch with them. The idea of making officers part of the community is considered “community policing.” Defined by Carol A. Archbold in his book, “Policing,” community policing is “a philosophy supports the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder and fear of crime.” The adopt-a-cop is an implementation of the community policing philosophy, and paramount to the UPD.  “Every police officer is a community policing expert. We believe that every one of our jobs is community policing,” Putzke said.

“We have full jurisdiction on every piece of property the [Montana] university system holds. We have jurisdiction at UM, Tech, and within one mile of any [university system] property, including farms,” Putzke said. “We also have a memorandum of understanding with the city [of Bozeman] which gives us full jurisdiction in the city and within 10 miles of the city limits.”

The UPD focuses on the safety of their officers as well, especially in stressful situations. “When we do active shooter drills, we’ll find elevated heart rates,” Putzke said. “The more we can train, the more we can actually practice the stress of an actual situation, the better our officers are going to react.”

“If MSU were a city, we would be the eighth largest in Montana,” Putzke said. MSUPD officers go through the same training as other officers in the state, and they respond to 911 calls and various other calls for help all of the time.