Paine College’s campus safety department was certified this summer as a full-fledged police department – with officers that have arrest authority and who will carry weapons, which school officials hope will boost security and deter crime.
“What this says to a would-be criminal is if you are here to put our campus community in harm’s way and you’re caught, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Paine Police Chief Joseph Nelson. “There’s a new day at Paine College. A new day.”
Since he was hired in March, Nelson has brought on seven certified police officers. Five more security officers should have their law enforcement certifications by the end of the year, he said.
The college received certification from Georgia’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council in June and now has the same arrest authority as any police department in the state.
With its new status, Paine received an originating agency identifier assigned by the FBI, which can be used to identify the department’s transactions in the state’s database and validate criminal history record requests.
The transition from a campus safety department to police department will come with upgrades such as gun belts, uniforms, Glock pistols, two to three patrol cars and other improvements. Nelson could not provide an estimate for how much the upgrades will cost the college.
Nelson said the campus also received improved surveillance cameras and new key-card readers on the doors of residential halls.
The change comes about four months after the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office investigated an alleged rape of a student in the restroom of her Graham Hall dormitory. In March, 18-year-old Jairus Rayshawn Dantzler was charged as a suspect in that case and in an attempted rape of another student in the same dormitory in November.
In 2012, crime on Paine’s campus resulted in 46 criminal incidents, including 18 burglaries, 12 simple assaults and four petty thefts, according to yearly crime statistics.
Nelson said he hopes having certified officers patrolling the campus on foot, bike and by car will help deter any criminal activity on campus and keep the community safe. The school will have a partnership with the sheriff’s office to process anyone it arrests at the jail on Walton Way.
“The security and safety of our kids and community is our priority,” Nelson said.
Assistant Chief Charles Prescott said officers will enforce nightly curfew and question anyone on campus without a Paine identification card.
Prescott, who joined Paine in March from the Waynesboro Police Department, said this transition will bring a renewed professionalism to the department. The police officers bring with them special training that is needed on a campus, such as how to deal with a shooter and other emergencies.
“It’s a great opportunity to be a part of the first-ever police department at the college,” he said.