“You can’t bring bags inside the stadium!” Laura Burke yells to the U-M football fans converging on the corner of Main and Stadium. “No bags! No purses! You can check them in Crisler Arena.”
A minute later, the smiling, short-haired Ann Arbor police officer has changed her tune–literally. She’s playing “Hail to the Victors” from an iPod on her elevated podium, where the U-M seal is framed by the words “OFFICER” and “LAURA.” She leads the crowds crossing what is, at this moment, the city’s busiest intersection in a chorus of the university’s fight song. “Yay, Officer Laura!” someone shouts.
A twenty-year veteran of the AAPD, Burke surprised her husband, her fellow officers, and herself when she volunteered for stadium duty three years ago. She wasn’t big on the sport Ann Arbor swears by and was also not a “big speaker in public. It’s a little outside my comfort zone.” But the challenge appealed to her, and she’d enjoyed working the intersection as a traffic cop. “The primary reason I’m there is to assist the officers in the middle of the street doing traffic,” she explains. “As we shut down the traffic light, all cars go at one point and pedestrians go at one point. It can be confusing to people. I’m the only one talking on microphone.” (The officers directing traffic use whistles and hand signals.)
Beyond keeping a congested situation in hand, Burke tries to provide helpful information–like the rules on entering empty-handed–and add some fun to the day. “I find the time to jokingly criticize the other team [but] be respectful,” she says. “I normally try to play ‘Let’s Go Blue.'”
“My husband says I learned more about football in the last three years” than she ever knew previously, Burke adds. Before each game, she goes online to familiarize herself with the latest information on the Wolverines and the opposing team as well. Doing research for the Michigan-Minnesota game, for example, she was tickled to learn the “weird names” of rivalry prizes like the Little Brown Jug (Michigan-Minnesota) and the Paul Bunyan Trophy (Michigan-Michigan State). Sometimes she quizzes the passing fans by shouting out the names of former U-M players now in the NFL and asking “Where are they now? Tom Brady [New England Patriots]–he’s an easy one.”
She’s seen a couple of crises on her watch. One time a man collapsed after a heart attack in the intersection. Fortunately, “some doctors and nurses that happened to be crossing the intersection at that time lent a hand,” and the man survived. Another time, a bus hit a guy riding a bicycle, but the injury was not severe. (In both cases, an ambulance and fire truck arrived quickly.)
Burke arrives a couple of hours before the game, and after it starts she works the stadium with colleagues–mostly watching for drunks or escalating arguments that may turn into fights. Her favorite part of the game is halftime, when she can enjoy the disciplined pageantry of the U-M marching band. After the third quarter, she heads back out to her podium to direct departing fans.
When not on stadium duty, Burke mainly does crime scene processing: “I investigate cases after officers take an initial report. I talk to suspects, witnesses … I get the warrants.” She dresses in street clothes for the investigative work, which may be why she’s never recognized as “Officer Laura” of football Saturdays. “Nobody comes up and says ‘Hey, you’re that officer on the corner.'”