Unexpected agencies add to police force

From the The Brunswick News

Glynn County has more trained police officers watching over the community than most people might realize.

Law and order is no longer just the responsibility of city and county police departments or the sheriff's office.

It's now a duty shared by police officers at College of Coastal Georgia, the Glynn County School System, Southeast Georgia Health System and the Georgia Ports Authority. All have trained law enforcement personnel who carry badges and weapons and have arrest powers.

College of Coastal Georgia Police Chief Bryan Sipe makes a point to tell new students during orientation exactly what to expect from him and his officers.

As certified police officers in Georgia, Sipe and the 13 other campus officers have the same power of arrest as those in the Glynn County Police Department, the Brunswick Police Department, Georgia State Patrol or Glynn County Sheriff's Office.

Sipe tell students this because they often enter college with the impression that campus police are security guards with no police powers.

"It can be hard to shake that perception," Sipe said.

There was a time when security on college campuses was handled by personnel who had no powers and limited training, he said. Colleges used to employ essentially night watchmen who would keep the boiler rooms running at night and an eye on the campus after hours, Sipe said. By the 1960s, the job had been transformed into a security position in which guards were present merely to observe and assist.

That changed in the 1980s, when full-fledged police forces began popping up on college campuses around the country.

At College of Coastal Georgia, the police force has doubled in size since 2008, when the college became a four-year school, Sipe said. "The addition of dorms has totally changed what we do," he said.

Dorms make keeping a department of certified police officers important because people are now on campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We are there and are ready when somebody needs us or when something happens," Sipe said.

That is why he encourages all of his officers to take a community approach to policing the campus. The better the relationship officers have with students, the better the atmosphere will be on campus, Sipe said.

His officers also regularly train for the worst. Recent college and school campus shootings around the nation have increased the importance of having a certified police force on campus to respond immediately to such an event, Sipe said.

Rod Ellis, chief of the Glynn County School Police Department, also keeps his officers trained for that very possibility.

Being ready for the worst and having the proper training to respond is what sets certified officers apart from security guards, he said.

"It is a lot more than just security," Ellis said. "Schools are little, tiny societies in themselves."

With around 15,000 students and employees in the public school system spread all over the county, Ellis says having trained officers to handle athletic events, disputes between students and issues like bomb threats can prevent a bad situation from escalating into something worse.

Southeast Georgia Health System employs a mix of certified police officers and trained security guards to monitor its Brunswick campus.

The Georgia Ports Authority also employs certified police officers to patrol its three Brunswick terminals.

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Release Date: 2/13/2013
Source: The Brunswick News

By MICHAEL HALL