The Lanthorn rides along with GVPD’s Sgt. Nate Dornbos after Saturday football game

GVL / Robert Mathews
A citizen being treated in Copper Beech Apartments after an altercation.

Robert Mathews

GVL / Robert Mathews A citizen being treated in Copper Beech Apartments after an altercation.

Anya Zentmeyer

No one ever said being underage and in college would be easy; but when it comes to making contact with a Grand Valley State University police officer, it really all boils down to one thing.

“It’s pretty simple really,” said Sgt. Nate Dornbos of the Grand Valley Police Department. “It’s attention-drawing behavior. The idea being the immature behavior, violent behavior, property damage, the medical aspect …that’s where an MIP not being that big of a deal becomes that big of a deal.”

GVPD agreed to let me tag along for the last part of Sgt. Dornbos’ second shift – 10:30 p.m. to roughly 4 a.m. the next morning – following the Lakers’ 42-28 victory over Northwood University Saturday. So Lanthorn image editor Robert Mathews and I suited up, and watched the ebb and flow of what Dornbos would later tell us was “more indicative of a common night” for a GVPD officer patrolling on-campus.

GVPD’s jurisdiction is mostly focused the Allendale Campus, though Dornbos said that they do assist Ottawa County Sheriff Department officers at times, and then also with miscellaneous traffic stops, but usually only make contact off-campus when needed for back up or emergency situations.

11 P.M. – We pull out of the Department of Public Safety building, and Sgt. Dornbos tells me the previous night, GVPD only cited one student total with a minor in possession charge. Saturday was a quiet night.

Though so far that night, he’d only dealt with two other calls, he told me some stories about people who had jumped out of third and fourth-story windows to evade MIP citations, or over-react to the stress of dealing with a cop and buckle under the pressure.

“It’s all human behavior and assessing stress,” Dornbos said. “The question that a cop generally asks is, ‘Why is the stress there?’ That’s a pretty logical question. It’s not so much assessing deception, we’re just looking for stressors, and people act in all kinds of odd ways when they’re under stress.”

11:30 P.M. – We stop halfway down West Campus Drive, next to a male and a female student walking down the shoulder of the road. Dornbos talks with them briefly, confirms they’re getting home alright, and sends them on their way.

“A lot of people get frustrated because, you know, they’re just walking home and they get stopped,” Dornbos said. “But I guess the other side is that we want to make sure they make it home.”

Things like stopping students who look like they’ve having a difficult time walking, he said, is part of preventative measures officers take to ensure that GVPD prevents “bigger tragedies from occurring.”

“Even though people don’t always necessarily see that impact or that result,” he said. “How do you gauge that? It’s not a measurable thing or tangible thing that you can really gauge, the what-ifs like ‘what if we allowed this to continue on and would this have happened?’ You can only speculate on that. ”Do we have an impact? Yes, I believe we do. Is fear sometimes one of those pieces of that? Yes, that is just one-way, obviously that you can impact – but it’s not necessarily our intention. It’s probably an unintentional consequence of enforcement.”

The other major component for GVPD is education, with the university’s Alcohol Campus Education Services program acting as an umbrella for a whole host of groups and training programs, as well as outside programs like Alcohol and Athletic Performance, Shots with Cops among other beer-goggled learning experiences.

“I think we do a pretty good job of trying to get information out there to help make us approachable and create scenarios that can be positive and try to prevent, but ultimately, prevention only goes so far,” he said.

MIDNIGHT – As we roll up to Copper Beech, we see a gathering of what appears to be intoxicated students spilling out of porches and balconies of all shapes and sizes. One kid in a tiger-looking mask points down the row of identical townhomes and yells “There is not a party over there,” while simultaneously, another kid looks up and gets startled by the cruiser and drops his PBR.

We loop back around less than a minute later and the entire party has already scattered.

12:16 A.M. – We stop by Copper Beech, where over the dispatch we’d heard a fight “had resumed,” and officers on site were calling for back up. We pulled up to two different Ottawa County vehicles, and at least 10 other people surrounding him. Robert and I stood from about 30 feet away and watched everyone swarm around and looked worried. When Sgt. Dornbos came back he said nobody had been arrested or cited for anything, but one of the males was being treated for facial lacerations.

1:56 A.M. – We’re driving on GVSU’s trippy sidewalk-roads when a male student walking in a group with two other males yells something vulgar, and Dornbos pulls over to make sure he isn’t intoxicated. Turns out he’s not only intoxicated, but he’s 19-years-old, and he recently found out he was having a baby.

Dornbos let him off without a ticket, but said he chose not to because of his honesty. Things like that, he said, are when judging citations on a case-by-case basis come into play.
“So yeah, he was having a baby literally – not figuratively,” Dornbos joked.

2 A.M. – I realize I’m not wearing my seatbelt. I leave it off just for the thrill of it. Robert points out that I’ve been making the seatbelt alarm beep and I hurry to buckle pack up and hope Sgt. Dornbos didn’t notice.

2:08 A.M. – We respond to a call for assistance at Grand Valley Apartments where a female student called with alleged reports of trespassing and harassment by another male via text message. The male was heavily intoxicated, with a blood alcohol content of .18. He was on probation, and was no longer an enrolled GVSU student since he’d been kicked out for bike theft.

After waiting around for his probation officer to say whether or not GVPD officers should bring him to jail, there was no response, and officers let the male out of his handcuffs, and escorted him back off-campus to a friends.

3:29 A.M. – We drove down Peirce Street toward campus, ready to hang up our hats, when Sgt. Dornbos noticed another officer pulled over on the right-hand side of the road just in time for that officer to call for assistance. Two male students had taken off on foot into the brush and corn maze on the side of the road; Robert and I watched while officers pursued the subjects on foot.

A few minutes later, and two flashlights came bobbing back out of the brush, swallowed intermittently by the non-descript roadside cornfields. When officers emerged, Dornbos had a shoe in his hand, and one of the individuals was apprehended. I think Dornbos is about to load one of the runaways into the back of our cop car, when suddenly – plot twist. The kid who gets out of the other officers car is the one from the trespass earlier – gets escorted from the back of the parked cop car to our car, sharing a back seat with Robert.

If you’ve ever tired to make small talk in a cop car, it’s not as easy as it sounds. But the kid realizes we’d been there watching him get arrested earlier and says “I’m that one thing – popular,” followed by “Glad the Lanthorn goes so deep with their coverage.”

Thanks, anonymous white male trespasser – we do go deep. You’re welcome.

After we drop him off at a friend’s house in Mystic Woods, Sgt. Dornbos fills me in on the situation we’d hiatused from. The officer had originally pulled the 22-year-old male over on Peirce Street because he’d been walking down the side of the road with a birdcage. But the student was of legal drinking age, not on probation, and only had two, unopened beers with him – he said that he and the person he was walking with got nervous when the cops pulled over and instinctually ran. No arrests were made.

4:15 A.M. ? We finally pull back into DPS, and call it a night. Dornbos checks the other officer’s reports, but sees that no MIP’s were cited aside from one during tailgating earlier that evening, but that isn’t including any Ottawa County citations that may have been given out, which were unavailable before publication.

He said though fear is inherently part of the equation, he hopes that the “us versus them” mentality isn’t the general student perception.

“I think most of the officers here want nothing more than the students to be successful in what they do,” he said. “We kind of help safeguard that, to a degree, by protecting them, to a degree, from some of their own choices. A community is only as safe as it allows itself to be. You can talk, but people have to be willing to listen, too.”

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