Johnson County Metro

College student 'ambassadors' patrolling downtown Iowa City

SHOUT program involves training in bystander intervention

Downtown Iowa City in an aerial photograph in Iowa City on Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Downtown Iowa City in an aerial photograph in Iowa City on Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — University of Iowa students are taking a more active role in keeping downtown Iowa City safe.

The Iowa City Police Department announced on Thursday that eight UI students are taking part in a pilot program known as Students Helping Out, or SHOUT for short. The initiative is overseen by the UI Department of Public Safety and its goal is to enhance student safety, police said.

The police department said the eight “student ambassadors” have been trained in bystander intervention and are equipped with a radio and body camera. Four students at a time will be patrolling downtown from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Two students will be on foot and two will be patrolling in a Chevrolet Colorado painted black and yellow and decorated with UI public safety decals.

The SHOUT students are outfitted in bright orange shirts and are trained to assist with things such as people who are lost or helping someone find a safe ride home.

Iowa City Police Chief Jody Matherly said UI Public Safety Director Scott Beckner developed the SHOUT program over the summer and it was activated in August. The students are paid out of the UI public safety budget.

Matherly called the program a “win-win,” noting that the ambassadors are intervening in situations before they become criminal acts and allowing officers to focus on more serious situations.

“It has absolutely freed up our officers’ time and given our officers another tool to use,” he said.

Matherly said the ambassadors can help people who have been separated from their groups or who might be too intoxicated before police intervention becomes necessary. While some of the students do have interest in law enforcement, they do not have any arrest capabilities.

“The students really enjoy it,” Public Safety Director Scott Beckner said in a statement. “They feel like they are making a difference and they are helping people make decisions so they can avoid becoming a victim of a crime or do something that may result in arrest.”

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek said in a statement that the program could help divert people from jail.

Police said SHOUT ambassadors also will work at student-sponsored events and help students download the Rave Guardian app.

Matherly said the ultimate goal is to promote safety. He said the program has been embraced by not only police, but also the downtown business community.

“I’d like to see it not just continue, but maybe expanded,” Matherly said.

Matherly added that the SHOUT program is one part of a multi-faceted approach the community is taking to keeping downtown Iowa City a safe environment.

“SHOUT is just another example of innovative programs - such as the Downtown District’s nighttime Mayor - that are working to enhance safety and improve the quality of the downtown area,” he said.

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