Patrolling the streets of OU

Officer Aaron Spencer originally went to school to become an engineer.


One day during his freshman year at Oakland Community College, however, he saw Oakland Police Academy’s K-9 unit training outside and realized he’d rather be doing that.


“I was like, ‘That’s awesome!'” said Spencer. “It was one of those epiphany moments.”


Citing his love for people and the outdoors, Spencer put down his T square and switched to criminal justice. He got his associate’s degree from OCC in fall 2004. That winter, he transferred to Oakland University and became a sociology major with a concentration in criminal justice.


During his time as a student at OU, he worked as a cadet at the police station. He graduated in spring 2007 with honors and after 16 weeks of training at the police academy, he joined OUPD in August 2008.


Working for OUPD


Now Spencer serves as the youngest officer at OU and currently has no plan to work elsewhere.


He said he really likes the OU community because he said the administration treats the officers very well and he gets along great with his co-workers.


“We goof around a lot; we’re all pretty close,” said Spencer of his fellow OUDP officers.


The closeness comes with the job because of the irregular hours officers have to work, said Spencer. He said the schedule has a big impact on family and social life, which makes it the toughest part of the job.


One of the best parts of the job for Spencer is getting to do a variety of things and being able to drive around during his shift.


“If you don’t like the view from your office, you can always change it,” Spencer said.


Although some departments work 10 or 12 hour shifts, the OUPD work eight-hour shifts. He currently works 3 to 11 p.m. five days a week. Off days are rotated within the staff.


When he’s not on-duty, Spencer said he likes to work out, travel, play with his dog and go to the shooting range.


“Can’t be a cop and not like guns,” Spencer said.


Writing and Riding


Spencer spends a portion of his eight-hour shift driving around campus and the roads that border OU, checking to make sure drivers are obeying traffic laws.


“[Chief Lucido] is pretty cool and as long as we handle our calls and keep the place safe, there’s no pressure to go handing out tickets,” Spencer said.


Because OUPD doesn’t make money from the tickets they issue, Spencer said he only writes them if it’s the only way to get the message across. He also takes a driver’s age and driving record into consideration.


He said tickets aren’t about the money, but rather about educating drivers and helping to make the roads safer.


“With tickets, there are points and fines and I have to think ‘Does this kid need this?'” Spencer said.


Rather than issuing tickets, he prefers to just “give them an earful.”


“If I can get them to realize what they’ve done and change their ways, then I’ve done my job,” he said.


Cops also assume a lot of responsibility when making a stop because they have to look out for the other drivers on the road, which can make it dangerous. Also, once the stop is made, cops are always at risk of being hit by passing vehicles.


“More cops get hit by cars than anything,” Spencer said of police officers in general, although not necessarily for OUPD officers.


When he’s not behind the wheel of his cruiser, Spencer is at the police station, usually with pen and paper in hand.


“There’s a lot of writing in police work,” Spencer said. Police reports, which involve following up on things and tracking people down to talk to them, eat up a lot of time, according to Spencer. Officers sometimes need to make court appearances to defend tickets.


He said the most common reports are of items stolen from unlocked lockers and students locking their keys in their cars, particularly during midterm or final times on campus when students are at their peak stress levels.


The station also does other services like fingerprinting and the maintenance of a lost and found report.


Being Ready


All officers carry a HeartStart defibrilator when they’re on the road and continue to take training courses after they are hired.


“We train day in and day out,” Spencer said.


OU invests a lot of money in training and safety equipment, according to Spencer, who said OUPD is better trained than any other department around.


Ongoing department training courses for police officers include firearm instruction and intensive eight-to-12-hour refresher courses on first aid.


“Medical stuff gets your heart pumping,” but despite undergoing intensive preparation, Spencer said it “doesn’t mean you’re ever ready for that kind of thing.”


Four months into his career as a police officer, all of Spencer’s training with the OUPD paid off when he earned a life-saving citation.


He was making his rounds one day in December 2008 when he saw a girl lying in a snowbank. She had fallen down after having a seizure. Spencer got her medical attention.


Afterward, the girl’s family contacted Spencer, thanking him for his actions and crediting him with saving the girl’s life.


“We took pictures, I shook hands with [Chief] Lucido and I got this medal,” Spencer said, pointing to his uniform. The small, rectangular badge, which has a red cross in the center, is now pinned on the right side of his chest, above his name.


“It was the biggest and most distinctive thing I could hope for in my career and boom, right out of the gate, it happened,” Spencer said.


Although such dramatic occurrences are rare, Spencer said OUPD invests a lot of resources to prevent crisis situations.


“On a college campus, you want to feel safe and be safe,” Spencer said. “We spend a lot of money and time training to make it safe.”