It was around 1 a.m. on Saturday. As students made their way to parties and residents made their way to bed, Dept. of Public Safety officer Kenneth Whittaker pulled into a driveway on Adams Street. His last call was to a home on Orchard Avenue where a woman told an officer from the Los Angeles Police Department about a domestic violence issue.
Parked in the driveway with more than six hours left in his eight-and-a-half hour patrol, Whittaker decided which incident to respond to next. Whittaker glanced at his steno pad, where he jots down notes, like addresses, times and descriptions, throughout the night.
“I’m getting my thoughts together,” he said.
Whittaker, a law enforcement officer with 15 years of experience under his belt, joined DPS’ force in October. Thursday through Sunday he patrols in Area D, which spans from Vermont Avenue to Hoover Street between Adams Boulevard and Jefferson Boulevard. DPS assigns its officers to patrols in five areas, labeled A through E.
Whittaker said the most frequent calls he responds to are noise complaints. He said DPS is typically aware of large parties before they patrol each night.
“We are usually notified of any big, big parties and any outgoing parties that [students] might be going to off campus,” he said.
Earlier in the night, just after 11:30 p.m. on Friday, Whittaker received a noise complaint on Menlo Street. The cold air swept through the car as Whittaker drove to the party; he said he drives with his windows open so he can hear suspicious behavior in the area. Whittaker also listens to the dispatch officer through an earpiece in his right ear, so suspects cannot overhear any vital information.
“It’s a little more discreet in case I’m talking to a bad guy, a real bad guy, and they want to pass on pertinent information to me,” he said. “I can hear it and he can’t. We have codes that we say over the radio and sometimes, believe it or not, the bad guys know the codes.”
Two additional officers arrived at the party on Menlo Avenue and began talking to the students responsible for the party. After the students complied with DPS’ advisement to turn down the music and control the party, the officers left.
“A lot of things they do after we get here, they could do before we get here,” Whittaker said. “So if they just policed themselves, they’d be all right. We would never have to be here if they just policed themselves.”
Whittaker said that after the first warning, DPS will likely not be as lenient if law enforcement receives another complaint about the same party.
“Hopefully we don’t have to go back to that location and if we do, we might be a little harsher,” Whittaker said. “We might have to go ahead and shut it down for the night.”
From the training DPS officers receive — the Los Angeles Police Department Police Academy, training at the DPS station and a daily evaluation — Whittaker believes the most applicable thing he learned was how to resolve disputes through talking to people.
“They teach you in the academy what they call verbal judo,” he said. “You always want to verbalize first with anything. I think sometimes, and more so for a university, when you explain something in its simplest form to where the person understands it, it solves a lot of problems.”
Whittaker, a Los Angeles native who is also familiar with USC’s surrounding area from his former police work, said he has seen the area change dramatically in recent years.
“If you would have told me Figueroa would have grown this big as far as businesses and growth of apartment buildings for students, I never would have believed it,” Whittaker said. “Just south of campus, Tuscany used to be a club, Margarita Jones. Just north of that was a billiard place for pool tables.”
As with growth in any city, Whittaker said there has been an increase in crime.
At 1:30 a.m., Whittaker joined another DPS officer at a home on 22nd Street where two Apple laptops had been stolen.
The two officers made official reports of the burglary and advised the students to use locks to secure their computers in the future. They said criminals respond to an opportunity to commit crime and having a lock minimizes that opportunity.
Whittaker said that theft has been a big issue and that students could be more active in taking measures to protect their property.
“We have a lot of thefts of laptops and iPhones that are being left out on desktops unattended,” he said. “The crime can be reduced if the student or students take a little more action in putting their things away either in a car, a locker or just having someone watch their property.”
Whittaker’s patrol shift lasted until 7:30 a.m. When his watch is over, Whittaker said he goes right to sleep to prepare to do it all over again the next night.
“I’ve worked graveyard pretty much my whole career,” he said. “It is just a matter of adjusting and getting your sleep.”