New program puts U-M student ambassadors on football gameday safety patrols
John Counts | AnnArbor.com
A group of about 15 students, known as the Michigan Ambassadors, will don orange T-shirts to help with safety issues in campus areas for the first time this season. The Ambassadors will warn folks to turn down loud music and keep alcohol drinks off sidewalks before police can ticket them. If they witness more extreme incidents - property theft or assaults - they will call 911.
The Michigan Ambassadors Program stems from a partnership between the Office of Greek Life, LSA Student Government, the Student Athletic Advisory Council, the Ann Arbor Police Department, the U-M Department of Public Safety and University Health Services. The program was piloted last season during the night game against Notre Dame and continued this past St. Patrick’s Day.
The MSU game will be its first this season, but afterward, participants of the program will continue to patrol on home game days for the rest of the season and the foreseeable future.
“What we noticed is that the tailgate situation and keeping everything safe is not just a Greek life problem, it’s a community problem,” said senior engineering student Nathan Hamet, of Sigma Phi Epsilon, who is heading up the ambassadors. “I witnessed fights, bottles being thrown at people. It was high-risk.”
Mary Jo Desprez, of University Health Services, said there was a need to ensure students and football fans had more fun with less trouble on game days. She said the 2010 MSU game in Ann Arbor had more alcohol-related medical transports than the school had experienced in a very long time.
“That was a real call to us that we have to do something different,” Desprez told student volunteers at a training session Wednesday night.
Schools in New York City, Chicago and Boston had similar types of student patrols. The Ambassador program was designed to emulate them.
“(It’s) another set of eyes or ears for folks who are coming to a big, congested place to understand what the rules of the road are and to help them when they’re in trouble,” Desprez said. “It makes a huge difference.”
The most logical place to start was last year’s night game against Notre Dame.
“When a game starts at noon, there’s little drama,” Desprez said. “When a game starts at 3:30, there’s more drama. We thought that if that trajectory held true, a night game was going to have a lot of drama.”
The number of medical transports, citations for minor in possession of alcohol and open intoxicant tickets were lower at that game than at the 2010 MSU game, however. Something seemed to be working, so officials tried it again on St. Patrick’s Day, when about 20 students went on patrol during the day. While problems surfaced later that night, forcing Ann Arbor police to shut down bars on South University Avenue, the daytime patrol went smoothly for the ambassadors.
The MSU game seemed a likely time to start up regular patrols. Before a student can participate, he or she has to go through a training session similar to one Wednesday night when Lt. Renee Bush from Ann Arbor police and Sgt. Gary Hicks from U-M police were on hand to talk about what an ambassador does.
The officers advised students to report property crimes, especially in parking lots and structures, as soon as they could and to not, under any circumstances, try to follow someone.
“Sometimes suspects are armed with pipes, broken glasses, broken bottles,” Bush said. “We (also) always see an increase in vehicles that are damaged by people who are intoxicated. They’re ripping off side-mirrors, breaking the windows, throwing rocks through the front windshields. People need to lock their doors, roll up their windows and turn their car alarms on.”
Bush also warned students about the swarms to be expected for the MSU game and what those people might be carrying.
“It’s going to be one of the most populated places on Earth Saturday,” she said. “People bring all sorts of stuff here (including baseball bats, knives, swords and guns.) We need to know about it.”
Ambassadors will wear noticeable orange T-shirts and badges around their necks with phone numbers and other helpful information written on them. Groups of two or three students will patrol Hill, South State, Hoover and nearby side streets in shifts before the game.
“Basically in the areas where most tailgates occur,” Hamet said.
Desprez stressed that ambassadors have an opportunity to help their fellow students out before the stakes get too high.
“You might want to get that person off that roof before they fall and hurt themselves,” she said. “It’s much easier coming from peers than it is having to have a police car come. You’re doing a favor for those folks.”
This seemed to resonate with some of the students at Wednesday’s training session.
“We just don’t want our peers to get in trouble,” said junior Jon Ahearn who signed up for an ambassador shift during Saturday’s game. “We want people to be responsible and we want to be able to tell people what the problems are before the cops come and get them. That’s what I would want.”
Junior Guy Wilson did the St. Patrick’s Day patrol and signed up again for Saturday.
“It’s a way to get involved on campus,” he said. “I like keeping things safe.”
Eeshin Chang, a freshman, also liked that it was a way to get active in the community.
“I just thought it was a good idea,” she said. “It seemed like a good thing to be involved in.”
Students who participate will receive more than just the knowledge they helped keep the U-M community safer, however. They will also be eligible to get H.A.I.L. athletic loyalty program points from the Athletic Department for the hours they put in. For a one-time participation, a student will receive a ticket to a U-M hockey or basketball game. Students may also receive athletic apparel, gift cards and a letter of commendation from the Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones.
Police also appreciate the help.
“I’m thrilled to see you guys,” said Hicks. “This is a very responsible and a very gallant thing to do.”