University Police Services’ Southern Command — a new department created as part of the consolidation of police forces for four schools — is on track to be fully up and running by January.
The change means one law enforcement agency will oversee security at UNLV, the College of Southern Nevada, Desert Research Institute and Nevada State College.
Officials say it will lead to benefits such as 24-hour coverage, cost savings, improved campus safety, more visibility of campus police, better communication, shared resources among schools and standardized response times to calls.
“You often don’t see different institutions working together to enhance safety,” said Adam Garcia, associate vice president and director of University Police Services’ Southern Command.
The Nevada System of Higher Education approved a memorandum of understanding in October 2018 to pave the way for the change. Regents asked the schools to work on consolidation, following a merger of campus police forces in Northern Nevada.
Until the merger, UNLV provided police services for Nevada State College — which additionally contracted with a private security company, Allied Universal — and Desert Research Institute. College of Southern Nevada had its own police force but also contracted with Allied Universal.
Garcia said he doesn’t know yet what the cost savings will be as a result of the merger.
One of the most notable changes: All four campuses have 24-hour-a-day police coverage. Previously, just UNLV and Desert Research Institute did, Garcia said.
The merger also allows for sharing resources — UNLV, for instance, has detectives and bomb-sniffing dogs — among campuses.
Other changes: a new residential life liaison and two employees who — along with other duties — will work with the Metropolitan Police Department to help provide resources for people who are homeless on and around college campuses, Garcia said.
The consolidation will also create one centralized dispatch center, which will be up and running in about a month.
University Police Services has about 60 employees. To ensure coverage across the Las Vegas Valley, the Southern Command is broken up into command divisions.
This school year, students and employees are already seeing changes on campuses, including new uniforms and different markings on patrol vehicles.
“A lot of students feel University Police Services has been a positive change overall,” UNLV student body President Hannah Patenaude said, referring to student government. The UNLV student body as a whole, she said, is a diverse group with a wide variety of perspectives and opinions about policing.
The student Senate has received periodic updates at its meetings about University Police Services.
In the past, students would see police officers sitting in parked cars and wonder what they were doing, Patenaude said. Now, they’re more visible and she sees officers walking around with K9s — even letting dogs off leash occasionally in grassy areas on campus.
“It just feels like the culture has really changed when it comes to the relationship between the university and our police,” said Patenaude, a 22-year-old chemistry and communication studies double major from Charleston, South Carolina.
University Police Services has also done an amazing job with stronger outreach to students through social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, Patenaude said, adding, “A lot more students are a lot more familiar with them.”
Following in Northern Nevada’s footsteps
In 2015, NSHE regents directed the University of Nevada, Reno, and Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno to consolidate police forces, Garcia said. The process took about a year.
“I think there was a great deal of concern consolidation would minimize service,” he said, but noted feedback was positive.
The consolidation led to an approximately $600,000 cost savings the first year and about $500,000 each year thereafter, Garcia said. NSHE received the Cashman Good Government Award in March 2018 by the Nevada Taxpayers Association.
Garcia was previously UNR’s chief of police for 18 years. He also oversaw the creation of the Northern Command.
Since he started as director of the Southern Command, the department has applied for nearly $900,000 in grant funding and received about $250,000, he said. A U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant, for instance, will allow for purchasing metal detectors for UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
NSHE Chancellor Thom Reilly said increasing safety is his primary interest in consolidating university police services.
When he started as chancellor in 2017, the process had already begun among the Northern Nevada schools. The consolidation, Reilly said, exceeded expectations.
The dynamics in Southern Nevada are different, he said, and schools in Northern Nevada are much closer to one another.
Reilly commissioned a $60,647 feasibility study by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators in 2018 for how consolidation may occur in Southern Nevada.
When regents were looking at the successes of the northern merger, southern university presidents were asked to explore it.
“There really was no movement at all,” Reilly said, adding there instead were resistance and concerns.
As for Garcia, he started in his job in February overseeing University Police Services’ Southern Command.
“To me, this is a dream job I absolutely love,” he said.
Need help from University Police Services?
Once the consolidated dispatch center is up and running in about a month, here’s how you can get help from University Police Services. The Southern Command is headquartered in a new building at the University Gateway Parking Garage at UNLV.
UNLV, Nevada State College and Desert Research Institute: 911
College of Southern Nevada: 7-911 from a campus landline or 702-895-3669 from a cellphone
Nonemergency: 311 (campus landline) or 702-895-3668 (cellphone)