Editor’s Note: This series will focus on a day in the life of UC Davis community members to give Aggie readers a behind-the-scenes look. Our series opens with a new UCD addition, officer Ralph Nuno.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Being a bike cop at a university does not sound like the most exciting job in the history of the world.
In reality, UC Davis Police Officer Ralph Nuno actually enjoys his job.
“Working at UC Davis has been the best job I’ve ever had,” he said. “The students have really embraced me as one of their own.”
He’s not lying. I met up with Officer Nuno in the center of the Quad and I have never heard so many students calling out one person’s name. He was the stereotypical popular kid in high school – giving high fives to students who passed and waving to people who called out his name.
Nuno’s story places him as an officer in probably one of the most crime-ridden and dangerous cities on the west coast: Oakland. After 20 years of service with the Oakland Police Department, he retired and applied for the bike cop position at UCD. He started last spring and said he has loved it ever since.
I accompanied Nuno as he began his rounds through the campus and let me tell you – I have never obeyed so many bicycle laws in my life. We stopped for pedestrians -BIKES, stopping for PEOPLE walking, an obvious inconvenience for bikers. But as Nuno explained to me, the reason is to teach by example.
“The best way to teach the students the laws is to do them yourself,” Nuno said. “If one student picks up the right habits, other people will follow.”
And hopefully they will. Rolling through a stop sign on a bike is a $170 dollar ticket. Yeah, you read that correctly. That’s a huge chunk of change and something that Nuno hopes to lower or replace with a traffic school-type class.
Giving out fines isn’t really what Nuno is all about.
“We aren’t out here with the intention of giving out tickets,” he said. “Our number one goal is education to prevent tickets.”
From the Quad, Nuno and I biked to the intersection of Hutchinson and Bioletti right after classes let out at noon. Although we missed the huge rush of students, we camped out to see if students would roll through the stop sign.
Sure enough, they did. Even though it says POLICE in big, bold letters on the back of Nuno’s uniform, it utterly surprised me that students still broke the law. I thought people knew that a bike is a vehicle, which means that stop signs really mean STOP. This may be a hard concept for some Aggies to understand.
In only 15 minutes, Nuno actually spoke with three dozen, if not more, students and (here’s the kicker) faculty members who biked through the intersection without stopping. He didn’t yell obnoxiously or demoralize anyone, but rather advised the students that they have to stop at a stop sign or face a hefty fine. Another big violation that Nuno pointed out was that you are only allowed to wear one earphone while biking.
The students’ responses were polite for the most part. Everyone said they would do better and apologized. The only rude comment was, ironically again, from a faculty member who gave a rather cold stare and said “OK.”
Once traffic slowed down, Nuno and I hopped back onto our bikes and headed to the center of campus. On the way, Nuno would occasionally yell from his bike to students about their minor infractions. With some students, he sometimes used his high-pitched, almost deafness-inducing siren to grab their attention.
By the time we reached the Quad again, I had gotten a good feel for how Nuno’s usual day went and how the campus feels about his presence. I had my reservations at first, believing that the casual law-breaking student would find a bicycle cop an inconvenience as they biked over laws that seem almost pointless for a university campus.
But my qualms proved false. Nuno, after only being here for almost two quarters, is as much a part of the Davis community as the students themselves.
So if you ever run into Officer Nuno, either on his bike or on his legendary scooter, be sure to yell out his name and be a part of the hundreds of other students who have joined Nuno Nation.
NICK MARKWITH can be reached at email@example.com.