It’s a blistery, cold Friday night and UWM Junior Blake Laufenberg is bundling up in his room at his house on Maryland Avenue to brave the cold for his shift at work. His job is unique relative to other on-campus jobs; he escorts people home on-foot and is out on UWM campus until 2 a.m., two to three times a week. His job is, “Safe Walking.” Listen above.
A common misconception with the UWM Safe Walkers is that when students are out partying on the weekends near campus, they see the Safe Walkers patrolling the streets and instantly think that they are going to report said students. Laufenberg says it’s not like that at all.
“Everyone thinks that we’re out to get them in trouble, but that’s the last thing we want to do,” said Laufenberg.
UWM Safe Walkers work with the UWM Police Department. Their job consists of walking students from point A to point B at night in order to keep them safe. This program was designed to keep students from walking alone at night, and for the Safe Walkers to gain experience working with police officers.
“I want to help people on campus and keep everyone safe. The criminal justice background will also help me get a job,” said Laufenberg.
Safe Walkers are always with one to two other people, who are also Safe Walkers.
“I wanted to do safe walking because I like taking care of people, and I don’t want people to be walking around not safe. We see emails all the time of armed robberies and I wanted to be able to prevent that,” said sophomore Alec Weise, also a UWM Safe Walker.
Safe Walkers are proven to be effective. UWM PD Officer, Ashley Hageman, works with the Safe Walkers regularly, along with the rest of the UWM Police Department. She believes that there are multiple benefits from choosing, “Safe” as a safe escort to a destination.
“I’ve never heard of anybody getting attacked or robbed when ‘Safe’ has been with them,” said UWM PD Officer, Ashley Hageman.
Not only are Safe Walkers effective, they have direct communication with UWM PD that allows them to not only escort students and other people but report suspicious activity. This is where the confusion comes in by students. Safe Walkers are reporting primarily if they see fights or robberies taking place.
“What’s great with having them associated with our department, is they’re our eyes if anyone is in a fight or if there’s a robbery or something like that, they can let us know right away,” said Officer Hageman.
UWM B.O.S.S, a transportation service for students, is another resource for safe travels at night. Normally, that is about a 15-minute wait after being on hold on the phone to schedule a ride. The unique part about Safe Walkers is that they are able to walk directly to a student’s location in order to begin an escort, minimizing wait time.
“Well, B.O.S.S is a great program, but students often have to wait for their rides for a long time. Safe Walk is a pretty fast response time,” said Hageman.
The Safe Walkers are also equipped with high-powered flash lights, and pepper spray to protect themselves, and the students they escort. This gives the student-employees another chance to work with tools that normal Police Officers would work with.
Primarily, Safe Walkers consist of UWM students who study criminal justice. This job allows the students to work with real-world police codes and calls.
“I think it’s always a good chance to both get a good feel for the police department, and if that’s something you for sure want to do, but also get your foot in the door and it’s a good resume builder,” said Hageman.
Hunter Meer, a junior studying criminal justice at UWM was considering how being a Safe Walker would affect his future when he first applied.
“I like helping people a lot so it looked like a great opportunity that’s going to help in the long run,” said Meer.
UWM Safe Walkers are actually known for staying with the department after college. Working with UWM PD gives students the chance to earn a job right after graduation.
“We actually have quite a few cops who started as Safe Walkers then just slowly got more involved with the department, whether it be through security or dispatch,” said Hageman.
Regarding students being cautious of the Safe Walkers, Laufenberg said the walkers are just trying to help.
“We just want to make sure everyone is safe and get people from one place to the other without getting trouble or getting hurt so don’t be afraid of us,” said Laufenberg.