As the founding chief of police for the UC Merced, Rita Spaur wasn’t afraid to step up to the challenge of building a police department from the ground up and overseeing development and management of the new police department as well as all campus law enforcement services.
How does she handle all the responsibility? “I´m fortunate to be surrounded by managers and officers that are very talented,” she said.
The department employs eight sworn officers, eight student employees and seven professionals. She hopes to increase the department by four more officers and supervisors next school year.
Since Spaur stepped into her position in March 2005, she has focused on prevention. During orientation, officers educated incoming freshmen about the dangers of alcohol and how to guard property. The department is also teaching students about preventing sexual assault and date rape, issues that plague campuses nationwide.
The year has been relatively safe and quiet, Spaur said. The department´s major undertaking has been creating practices and procedures for years to come and completing the Peace Officers Standard and Training certification.
Spaur started off as a teacher in her native Colorado because she wanted to make a difference. But prompted by the desire to disprove a father who thought law enforcement was no place for women, she joined the Boulder County Sheriff´s Department. “It got into my blood,” she said.
In 1985, Spaur began her career with the UC system in the UC Santa Barbara Police Department. Nine years later she came to UC Davis as a lieutenant, then rose through the ranks to become interim chief of police.
Spaur doesn’t consider policing a campus different from her time spent in the sheriff´s department. She treats campuses as small cities that have real problems. The only difference, she said, is that a campus is a transient community.
“We have a new population every four years, so we have to adapt to each one,” she said.
Also, a university police department is more intimate, “We just had our holiday party and everyone brought their family,” she said. “That is what it is about, community, unity and closeness.”