Helping people is police officer Barb Robbins’ vocation, whether she is responding to calls in University Housing or doing volunteer work with campus or community organizations. In July, Robbins will celebrate her ninth anniversary with the UI Police. During her career she has been honored with the Excellence in Community Policing Award (2001), the Director of Public Safety Recognition Award (2002) and the Valor Award, which she earned in 2003 when her quick response to a shooting in Urbana enabled police to later apprehend a murder suspect. Robbins earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Parkland College, a bachelor’s degree in career occupations from Eastern Illinois University and is studying for a master’s degree in education at Illinois with a concentration in training and development.
Tell me about your job.
I’m one of three officers assigned to Housing, which probably has the highest volume of calls. It keeps you busy, especially between 2 and 4 a.m. after the bars close and people are all wound up when they get back home. It appears there’s a small group of students who never sleep. Mainly the calls at night are about intoxicated people who have passed out, fights, property damage and some domestic incidents between roommates or boyfriends and girlfriends.
We do resident adviser training for Housing every summer and freshman orientation, so the officers get a chance to meet all the RAs (resident advisers). There are usually around 250 of them. I can’t remember all of their names but they remember me from going to activities. I really enjoy Housing. I think it helps that I’m a woman because we do stand out and people remember us.
I also work part-time for the Police Training Institute to help train new police officers from around the state about domestic violence and sexual assault. I’m either the victim or the facilitator in role-playing scenarios.
What kinds of skills do you need to work with a college population?
You have to have a lot of tolerance and good communication skills. On third shift (overnight) mostly you’re communicating with impaired people whose personalities have been altered by drugs or alcohol, and they can act aggressively and be unpredictable. You have to be aware that they’re not going to be cooperative and you may have to get in foot chases with them. Sometimes the residence halls are like houses, and the residents are like sisters and brothers, and when one gets in trouble the rest come to the rescue. You have to be able to multi-task and keep control of the situation.
Each crop of new freshmen creates a totally different campus environment and new challenges for us Housing officers.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy working with the students, but I always feel I could be doing more.
The most fun part of my job is public speaking. I’ve done talks in Housing and to the general public – Emergency Medical Technicians, high school teachers and guidance counselors – about drug and alcohol prevention and education.
I’m on the board of the Illinois Drug Education Alliance, which is a statewide volunteer coalition focused on drug and alcohol prevention and education for kids ages 8 to 18. We lobby in Springfield when bills come up that deal with underage drinking. I write a lot of letters to legislators. Being involved with IDEA gives me information and resources that I can use in my job.
I really believe that within our community we need to do something about alcohol because it is the root of a lot of problems that our students deal with.
What do you do when you’re not working?
Anything outdoors. I just got back from a trip to Florida, where I did some cave diving. I got certified in scuba diving at IMPE three years ago and have done 32 dives. I’ve gone diving in the Caribbean – the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. I went diving in Hawaii earlier this year. Two years ago, I went on a 10-day canoe trip to Canada with Campus Recreation. It was spectacular.