June 7, 2014

Sworn officers protect students at metro-east colleges

With a combined 40,000 college students to protect, the police forces at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Southwestern Illinois College, McKendree University and Lindenwood University all deploy sworn police officers who are permitted under Illinois law to carry guns and make arrests or detain suspects.

The SIUE Police Department has 39 full-time officers and is supervised by Police Chief Kevin Schmoll, a deputy chief and two lieutenants. Schmoll has worked for the department the last 20 years and was promoted to chief in October.

The SWIC Department of Public Safety offices at the Belleville and Sam Wolf Granite City campuses are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. SWIC Public Safety Director Mark Green said these departments employ up to 16 commissioned patrol officers, supplemented by part-time, non-commissioned officers, administrative staff and part-time dispatchers. SWIC's Red Bud Campus is provided law enforcement services through an agreement with the Red Bud Police Department.

McKendree University Public Safety Department has 17 staff members, including nine sworn police officers and eight non-commissioned personnel who are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We are prepared to respond in the event of an emergency -- if there's an active shooter or an armed intruder on campus," said Ran Foggs, director of public safety at McKendree. "We have the means and the resources to respond as first responders."

Lindenwood University's sworn police officers receive an unusual perk: In exchange for their services, they get their tuition waived, Director of Security Angela Wingo said.

The program is called Cops for Credit. Sworn officers work for Lindenwood's campus police 20 hours a week and get their tuition waived, as opposed to receiving pay. Currently, 38 sworn police officers and 18 law enforcement para-professionals from area police and sheriff's departments are participating in the program.

The program, which began in 2010, has proven to be successful, Wingo said. Recently, the university expanded it to include tuition for dependents of law enforcement officers. Lindenwood will provide up to $5,000 of tuition credit annually for any qualified dependents of the university's police officers. For every hour the officers works, they get a $20 tuition credit.

While Lindenwood has a campus police force, Belleville Police Department is the responding law enforcement agency, Wingo explained. Lindenwood's police force is not commissioned, which means the officers don't have the authority to arrest individuals and can only detain them until Belleville police arrive.

'Community policing'

Police forces at the local colleges and universities work closely with neighboring law enforcement agencies while relying on students and staff members to notify them of a crime or if something seems out of place.

SWIC uses an information-driven "community policing" approach, Green said, where SWIC Public Safety directly involves employees and students in the surveillance and timely reporting process.

"College employees and students are routinely apprised of suspected or potential criminal activity in a timely manner, and safety and reporting measures to address same are shared in each instance," he said.

SWIC provides safety and security awareness sessions at freshman seminars and new-employee and new-student orientations as well as through other educational opportunities for college employees, students and others.

"Feedback from students and employees received at the seminars we conduct for both groups suggests SWIC is deemed to be as safe as any public institution or environment can be today," Green said. "A main reason is the acceptance of their role in helping us police our campuses with timely sharing of information."

McKendree public safety officers promote proactive policing, Foggs said, which he credits for the low crime rate on campus.

"Our students and faculty are very good about contacting public safety and making us aware if there is a problem or concern," he said. "They really are our eyes and ears -- our first line of defense."

McKendree public safety officers conduct scheduled security checks of buildings and facilities, as well as mobile and foot patrols, 24 hours a day.

"We probably cover the campus every 10 to 15 minutes," said Foggs, a former Illinois State Police trooper. "We take every threat seriously, period. There's no such thing as a prank."

McKendree provides training opportunities for students, faculty and staff members about personal safety.

The SIUE Police Department helps ensure student safety by adequately staffing its department, according to Schmoll. He said the department's community-oriented policing helps promote safety on campus, as officers are out walking around and interacting with the campus community.

Officers also do presentations on safety, not just with student organizations but faculty and staff as well, Schmoll said.

Lindenwood has a large police presence on campus both day and night, Wingo said. Key-card access to student residential facilities is a vital component to campus safety. Residential students with key cards are only permitted to access their own wing of a dormitory.

"Key-card access is an incredible safety component that we have put into place," she said. "It prohibits unauthorized people from getting access to unauthorized areas, even people that live in the same building."

Lindenwood also has an extensive surveillance camera system, which is monitored by campus police.

"Those cameras have helped us in numerous ways and are also a deterrent," Wingo said.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or Follow her on Twitter at @BND_JForsythe.

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