April 16, 2012

Cornell Police on the Night Shift

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Studying for a master’s degree, caring for his two sons and supervising the Cornell Police Department’s night shift takes a toll on Sgt. Anthony Bellamy’s sleep schedule. But he has to stay sharp for when emergencies arise.

A day in the life of Bellamy may involve hours of record keeping and property checks, or it may be punctuated by a crisis that demands immediate attention.

Bellamy was in charge of the night shift — or the A-line, as police call it — in the early hours of March 31, when a female student fell 14 feet inside the Chi Phi fraternity house, landing on her back and losing consciousness.

When the call came over his radio, Bellamy was supervising another CUPD officer and an EMT as they dealt with a drunk, stumbling student on University Avenue.

“Let’s go,” he said to a reporter accompanying him that night.

The girl — who, her friend later told police, had consumed five “vodka drinks” that night — was lying motionless on the fraternity’s floor when Bellamy arrived. Several other emergency responders were already attending to her, and they soon called for a backboard.

Moments later, when the sergeant went out to his police SUV to get more equipment, the street outside was filled with emergency vehicles. More Cornell police had arrived, as well as Ithaca police, Cornell EMS, Bangs ambulance and the Ithaca Fire Department. Fire chief  Tom Parsons ’82  also briefly surveyed the situation.

The student was soon placed on a stretcher, still unconscious. Looking at the scene, it remained unclear why the student fell and whether she had been pushed.

Once the student was taken away by an ambulance — three different helicopters were called, but they were all unable to fly because of bad weather — Bellamy’s real work began.

He took pictures of the scene and measured the height from which the student fell. Bellamy and other officers spoke to fraternity members and friends of the injured student, but many were noticeably drunk and had difficulty giving useful answers. Police took three people to CUPD headquarters for interviews.

From speaking with witnesses, Bellamy said the student’s fall appeared to be an accident. But he added that police cannot rush to judgment when collecting evidence at the scene because, in the first moments of the investigation, it is often difficult to determine the severity of the situation.

“You only get one chance,” he said, so it is important to document everything carefully.

Bellamy has been in the police force long enough to have seen plenty of serious situations. Before coming to Cornell — where he was an investigator for two-and-a-half years before being promoted to sergeant two years ago — Bellamy worked as a deputy sheriff in Dutchess County. He also spent time as a volunteer firefighter and a part-time police officer.

Bellamy met his wife, who is from Schuyler County — to the west of Ithaca — while working in Dutchess County. They each applied to jobs near the other’s hometown, and he got his job at Cornell first, so the couple moved to the Ithaca area. They now have two sons.

He has worked the night shift since becoming sergeant two years ago. He said that the hours can be tough, especially while caring for a family.

“I’ve lost a lot of sleep, and I think I’ve aged some,” he said. “My family has gotten used to it a little more.”

Bellamy goes to bed at about 9 a.m. most mornings, but wakes up at 2:30 p.m. to see his sons get off the school bus.

His difficult sleep schedule is compounded by the classes he is taking to earn a master’s degree in public administration.

Bellamy joined CUPD with only an associate’s degree. Soon after joining the department, he worked on a harassment complaint that involved an email sent by an English Ph.D. student to a professor. After reading the first page of the email, Bellamy said, he realized he did not understand it as well as he needed to. The experience inspired him to go back to school to get a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

Now, as he works toward a master’s, he has to balance schoolwork on top of every other demand. For a recent paper, he said he “did the student thing” — going to the library right after work at 7 a.m. and staying there until 10 p.m.

“My wife was pretty mad about that,” he said.

But in the early morning of March 30, shortly after the student fell, Bellamy left thoughts of his family and schoolwork for later to focus on his more immediate work.

At about 1:30 a.m., he returned to CUPD headquarters and called the University’s crisis manager on duty that night, Julie Paige. When a student is injured, Cornell’s crisis manager communicates with family and friends and helps ensure University resources are used where they are needed most.

Bellamy explained the situation to Paige. He also called the hospital in Pennsylvania where the student had been taken to find out how the parents could contact the doctors there. During the call, he learned the student was still unresponsive.

A problem soon arose: A phone number for the student’s parents could not be located. Emergency contact information was not listed on the student’s PeopleSoft profile. Paige found a cell phone number for the student’s mother, but no one answered. Bellamy looked on Facebook and even WhitePages.com, but could not find a phone number.

Bellamy eventually called the local police department in the parents’ hometown. Just before he was going to ask officers to knock on the parents’ door — a parent’s worst nightmare, especially at 2 a.m. — the student’s mother returned Paige’s call on her cell phone.

The crisis manager was involved, the parents were notified and the scene was documented.

“The only thing left to do is typing at this point,” Bellamy said at 2:30 a.m. as he began writing a report of the incident.

From their interviews with witnesses, other officers reported back to Bellamy about what had happened to the injured student. After several drinks, she and her friends had been standing on Chi Phi’s second-floor balcony, overlooking a dance floor a story below. The student climbed over the second-floor railing to try to dance on a fireplace mantel, witnesses said, and she fell in the attempt.

A few days later she walked out of the hospital, according to one Cornell emergency responder, who described her quick recovery as “miraculous.”

Putting in extra effort — finding a hospital phone number for parents to call, or offering counseling to upset witnesses — is part of the job for campus police officers, Bellamy said.

“I always say to people: It’s not only cops and robbers,” he said, adding that working for CUPD is quite different than his years as a deputy sheriff.

Earlier in the night on March 30, before the student fell, Bellamy was driving down College Avenue. A girl stumbled into the middle of the road with her arm in the air. The sergeant stopped to find out if she was all right, and her friend said that she was trying to hail a cab, as if she were in New York City.

“Well, let her know she’s not in the Bronx anymore,” Bellamy said as he returned to his patrol.

“This is what we do,” he said later. “We protect the students and the staff and the buildings and the property.”

Original Author: Michael Linhorst