I walked the “party streets” of San Luis Obispo like hundreds of others last Friday night, seeking excitement. Only my wingman, University Police Department (UPD) chief William Watton, distinguished me from the hordes of students, “wowies” and out-of-towners roaming the neighborhood.
Watton, known simply but reverently by fellow on-duty officers as “Chief,” invited me on a ride-along earlier that day. I accepted, expecting to witness delinquency and law enforcement at extreme levels, as Week of Welcome — notoriously known as the UPD’s busiest week of the year — neared its conclusion.
Both Watton and I were surprised by the results of our “ride-along,” which actually comprised of mostly walking. In three hours of surprisingly calm civilian behavior, he issued zero citations and the department made zero arrests, including at the on-campus DUI checkpoint on Grand Avenue.
“A lot of people are just coming from the dorms to check out what’s going on,” Watton said. “Not everyone is drinking.”
Recent changes to WOW, like later move-in dates and stricter rules for group leaders, were designed to decrease the number of alcohol-related offenses. Crime statistics are kept annually by UPD to assess the effectiveness of such changes. According to Watton, the results have shown significant improvement over the last few years.
Watton approached someone holding an open container of alcohol, a misdemeanor worthy of a citation but not arrest, on three separate occasions. Each time he was stern, questioning the person and their understanding of the law they were violating. All three claimed to be 21 and unaware of such a policy, and all three graciously poured out their drinks and went on their way when asked to by Watton.
Not all law enforcement is as merciful, however. We approached a pair of officers on bike patrol by Campus Market citing a male for possession of an open container of alcohol, which he used to spit chewing tobacco into. As one officer filled out the citation, the other proudly told Watton about his partner’s 23 citations issued the day before.
“It’s their everyday job to patrol the streets,” Watton said when I asked why he sometimes showed leniency. “I’m usually in the office handling paperwork.”
Absurdity came in the form of two naked males sprinting up Fredericks Street, covered only by their hands. Unsure about police protocol in such an event, and only 10 minutes into the experience, I waited quietly for Watton’s reaction.
“That’s just kids having fun,” Watton said, chuckling to himself as the streakers disappeared into a nearby driveway. “Actually it’s pretty weird.”
Watton shared his opinion on observed fashion trends, besides nudity, after several groups of young women walked past us wearing short dresses and tall heels.
“They wear nice outfits, but they all look so cold,” Watton said. “Always pulling their shirts up and their skirts down; I don’t understand it.”
Watton said parties that exclusively let females in are a “red flag” for sexual assault. These parties are generally more likely to have males getting females drunk to take advantage of them.
Watton has a daughter of his own at Cal Poly, and he understands the precautions female students must take to be safe in San Luis Obispo. He shook his head as we passed a female walking alone on Slack Street.
“No matter how many times we remind people to go out with a group and return home with a group, someone will walk home alone,” Watton said.