Wild Night

I saw a lot as a Community Service Officer (CSO), but nothing crazier than a group of ravers dancing around a bonfire in the middle of a campus parking lot.

Work badge with student in a polo shirt.I got a campus job as a CSO my first year at UCSD in 1998. I had no idea what a CSO did and I didn’t have any previous interest in security or law enforcement-type activities, but I recall the job board saying there were over 30 open positions, which seemed like great odds for getting hired. (And by job board, I mean a physical job board at the Career Services Center off Library Walk where students could literally thumb through listings for campus jobs. Although the internet technically existed, we didn’t use it for anything non-AOL related yet.) After a nerve-wracking interview in which I fiddled with a paperclip until it finally snapped, I got the job. For the most part, it was like any other campus job: convenient, hourly, steady.

Anyone who attended UCSD is familiar with the CSOs: they ride bikes around campus, uniformed in black jeans and blue polo shirts, walkie-talkies and flashlights at their side, and, of course, dutifully helmeted. The CSO role had a few primary functions: provide escorts for anyone who wanted some assurance walking across campus or to their car at night; act as the eyes and ears of the UCSD campus police (actual police officers with an actual police station on campus), and regularly test every far-flung emergency call box on campus to ensure operability.

When I wasn’t riding my bike across campus as a CSO, I was breaking the rules across campus as a skateboarder. And despite having a slight personal aversion to being in “security,” I loved the job. On a typical night, we’d provide two or three pedestrian escorts over a long shift, which left plenty of time for exploring campus, stopping by friends’ dorms for a few minutes to say hi or – one of our favorites – a 10-25 with another CSO, which is the police code for a meetup in person. Some of those nights really dragged on, so getting a request over the walkie talkie for a 10-25 from another CSO was often an exciting break from the solitude and an excuse to gossip about whatever was (or likely, wasn’t) happening on campus.

But one seemingly mundane shift turned into one of the craziest nights of my experience at UCSD.

One night,  I was assigned to a shift providing security for a rave, which, for those readers under 40, is an electronic music concert with lots of glowsticks. Raves were easy affairs because the concertgoers were usually fairly, subdued. Long after the rave ended that night, the attendees meandered through campus, found their cars, and drove home. As I was about to head to the police station to turn in my walkie, a couple of UCSD police officers walked up to me with two wide-eyed ravers in tow.

“Terrence. These girls have no idea where they parked. Here are the keys to that car over there. You need to drive them through every parking lot on campus, up and down each aisle, until they find their car.”

UCSD is a huge university spanning 1,200 acres with countless parking lots and many thousands upon thousands of parking spaces across every nook and cranny of the sprawling campus. You had to be kidding me. (They were not.)

The car was an unremarkable Ford Taurus (do they still make those?) that belonged to the detective division. It was tan or beige or something indistinct. They sat in the back seat and were very quiet.

In all honesty, I remembered being kind of excited. At least this was something different. Was it going to take all night? Or would we get lucky within the first parking lot or two? What a time to be alive!

We were maybe 15 minutes into our three-hour tour when the project took a dramatic left turn (figuratively, not literally). I pulled into a tiny lot near Library Walk between the Career Services Center and the Student Health and Wellness Building. As I pulled into the lot, I noticed a bonfire at the far end with half a dozen or so gleeful ravers mingling and dancing around it, completely unconcerned about the fact that they were enjoying a bonfire on a college campus parking lot. Steps from Library Walk. After attending a rave.

My inner Sherlock Holmes whispered in my head, “Criming is happening, this is what your walkie-talkie is for.”

Surprised by the situation but confident in my ability to relay the circumstances in police-speak to police dispatch, I asked my passengers for a moment and went to work.

“264 to San Diego.” (264 was my badge number. “San Diego” was police dispatch.)

“San Diego to 264.”

“There’s a 10-72 in progress in Lot P415.” (I don’t remember the exact code now, let’s just roll with 10-72.)

Silence.

“San Diego to 264. Confirming a 10-72?”

“264 to San Diego. Affirmative. A 10-72.”

Silence.

“San Diego to 264 can you go to private channel 5.”

We switch to a private channel, so our relay is no longer public.

The dispatcher: “Are you saying there’s a FIRE?”

Me: “Yes. A FIRE. There are people having a fire in Lot P415. They’re from the rave. It’s a pretty big fire.”

Within a few minutes, every available member of the UCSD Police Department (which was all of them) was at Lot P415. They thanked me for the good eye and sent me on my way since, you know, I still had to find that car. My passengers enjoyed the whole event greatly and once we pulled out of the lot, with the officers rummaging through the fire-makers’ cars in the rear-view mirror, they asked me if that kind of action was typical for a CSO at UCSD. I’m positive I must have lied and said something like, “Oh yeah, we get lots of 10-72’s. All the time.”

Eventually, we found their car’s 10-21, and the adventurous night came to an end. The next day, I learned that the police scored a major drug bust searching the vehicles of the fire people. On the one hand, I felt kind of conflicted playing a role in their bust. On the other hand, they built a bonfire next to a car full of drugs on a well-lit college campus. A few weeks later I was recognized as CSO of the Month (true story), January 1999.

And all this happened steps from the Career Services Center, where only a few months earlier the campus job opening for a CSO… whatever that was.

 

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