University police keep their footing after winter snowstorm

Gavin Johnson, Staff Reporter

Last week, Washington experienced a severe winter storm that walloped the state and the Ellensburg campus was no exception. Students and faculty alike have altered daily routines due to the heavy snowfall, including within the university police force.

The heavy snowfall has caused issues for university police – they are short-staffed and unable to use certain patrol vehicles due to icy roads. Some officers were unable to make it to work due to poor road conditions.

“We saw 10 inches in the forecast but got 22 inches instead,” says Lt. Marc McPherson of the University Police. “When it was predicted to be 10 inches, the decision was made to go to a three-hour late start. But then when we woke up to all that snow and realized it just wasn’t going to work.”

McPherson explained the various issues in their usual operation caused by the heavy snowfall and said the storm was hard on university staff, especially for maintenance staff.

“A lot of them were stuck at home and had to dig themselves out just to get into work and start cleaning lots,” McPherson said. “When you have this amount of snow, it takes time and creativity to get it cleared.”

McPherson also discussed issues with staffing for the Courtesy Assistance Team (CAT) service since the snowstorm. Though the service is not suspended, some of their staff had been stuck over the pass from winter break and snowed into their homes.

Since the school closures on Jan. 6 and 7, university police say there has been a noticeable decrease in traffic. Road capacity was also decreased, as four-lane roads were reduced to two lanes due to piles of snow pushed to the side by plows.

University police encourage students to follow safe driving procedures and stay safe as roads are still slippery due to ice. 

“Increase your following distance, minimize your number of trips, carpooling is good, and drive responsibly,” McPherson said.

“For the most part people have been safe,” said Officer Williams of University police, “but there’s some that like to play. You can see the tracks in the parking lot.”

According to McPherson, there has been one arrest for reckless driving since the winter storm.

On the University Police and Public Safety webpage, students can find a list of winter driving tips, including to drive for conditions and leaving extra room between your own vehicle and the vehicle in front. There is also a checklist students can follow to build a winter kit that will aid if going out in the snow.