Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Campus Safety officer to get commendation from Denver police

Steve Banet

DU Campus Safety Sgt. Steve Banet is to receive a commendation from the Denver Police Department for his role in apprehending a sex offender.

Perhaps as important as having nearly 400 security cameras across campus is having people watch what those cameras reveal.

One of those watchers is Sgt. Steve Banet, an eight-year Campus Safety officer with nearly four decades of investigative experience. Among other duties, Banet watches surveillance monitors in the Ritchie Center with an eye toward spotting unusual behavior, connecting details and marshaling forces when something’s amiss.

It’s usually a thankless job, but come Monday, he’ll get some thanks. The Denver Police Department will give Banet an award for going “above and beyond” in helping them arrest a habitual criminal with a history of sex offenses. The commendation is the police department’s way of saying thanks, sort of a song for the unsung.

“Most people would be bored to tears watching a video monitor,” says Denver police officer Steve Steinbach, who nominated Banet for the award. Steinbach credits Banet’s “alertness” with the arrest. Banet says he was just doing his job.

“We have a good surveillance system, competent officers and close ties with Denver Police,” Banet notes. “And we’re more than happy to check out something suspicious.”

Just the way he did back in April 2009.

“We had a report from the Coors Fitness desk that a male had entered the women’s general locker room and was walking into the shower area while there were women in the shower,” Banet recalls. “We immediately responded, but he got away. We had a good surveillance photo and we got pretty good descriptions. I kind of had a hunch that the time was right for him to come back.”

Which is what happened the following Sunday, April 26.

“I had just brought the surveillance system up and hadn’t watched that camera for a minute when there he was. He walked right into view,” Banet says.

A surveillance camera in the hall outside the locker rooms showed a man hanging out near the entrance, talking on a cell phone and pacing. Banet watched closely as a woman entered the locker room, apprehensively pulling the door shut behind her when she noticed the man standing nearby. Thirty seconds later, a second woman approached the door, keyed in the code and went in.

“He runs and jumps for the door handle and just barely misses it,” Banet says. “The door closes and I knew we had a problem. So I got the cavalry coming.”

While Banet maintained surveillance, two other campus safety officers assembled. Some time later, Banet joined the group and contacted the man outside the lockers. The person denied trying to get into the locker room, saying he was phoning his wife to ask that she bring their daughter to public ice skating. But he had neither identification nor an explanation for why he was carrying a duffel bag with nothing in it but two empty duffel bags. Banet alerted Denver police but the man apparently had no arrest record.

“They cleared him through their system. No wants or warrants,” Banet says. “So we told him he couldn’t come back or he’d go to jail instantly, and we parted ways.”

Banet’s subsequent report resulted in a further inquiry to the police department’s sex assault unit, which recognized the name the man had given campus safety as an alias.

“DPD put an arrest warrant out Wednesday and he was in custody on Thursday,” Banet says.

Prosecutors hoped to use the incident in the women’s shower room to revoke the man’s parole, Banet says. But it didn’t work out that way.

“Our star witness called the DA at 3 o’clock in the morning and said ‘I can’t do it. I can’t see this guy. I can’t testify,’ ” Banet says.

The man was subsequently released, police said, then rearrested sometime later on charges unrelated to the DU incident. On March 25, he pleaded guilty to being a habitual criminal and to assault on an at-risk adult, says Deputy District Attorney Rebekah Melnick (JD ’04). He was sentenced to six years in prison.

“An at-risk adult is anyone 60 years of age or older or a person 18 years or older who has a disability,” Melnick says, noting that being a habitual criminal is more significant than simply adding time to a prison sentence.

“If he gets out and commits another offense, he could spend the rest of his life in prison,” she says.

To Banet, the situation underscores the value of DU’s surveillance system and the importance of the campus community’s alertness to anything that doesn’t seem quite right.

“We’re more than happy to come out and check out a suspicious party, person or vehicle,” Banet says. “That’s why we’re here. Give us an opportunity to do our job.”

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