A student who is smoking on the Augusta Technical College campus or a trespasser wandering the hallways now has a bigger police force to answer to.
In the past, the campus was patrolled by three off-duty Richmond County sheriff’s deputies working special assignment for the school.
But in July the school established its first-ever Augusta Technical College Police Department with one chief and one full-time officer, who will still work with the three special duty deputies. The two officers were sworn in earlier this month by Augusta Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Daniel Craig and now have full arresting power.
“We’re not here to be an oppressive force,” Officer Jerri Jennings-Joly said. “We’re here to facilitate a safe and secure environment for the students to learn.”
Chief Mike Anchor said he saw a need for the college’s own department because the deputies sometimes had to be called off campus for a city-related call and the campus was left without security. Between Anchor and Jennings-Joly, and the three deputies, there is now an officer with arresting authority on campus at all times.
Jennings-Joly and Anchor were Richmond County road patrol deputies before coming to Augusta Tech. Anchor left the sheriff’s office in 2008 to become Augusta Tech’s director of security, safety and environmental. Jennings-Joly joined the school full time in July.
Augusta Tech is the 13th of Georgia’s 25 technical colleges to establish its own police department, according to Mike Light, a spokesman for Technical College System of Georgia.
He said a recent boost in technical college enrollment in Georgia spurred a need for more security. Between 2008 and 2011, enrollment increased 30 percent to 195,000 students in state technical schools.
Since 2011, enrollment has dropped by about 20,000 students, but Light said about five colleges still established their own police forces in the past few years.
“It’s definitely a sign of growth that we’re getting these police departments on campus,” Light said. “With more students walking around, there is more need for security.”
Although they are now prepared, Anchor said Augusta Tech is lucky to have few crimes. Last year, there were about six misdemeanor thefts, one stolen vehicle and no arrests.
Most incidents the officers deal with are violations of the school policy and student code of conduct. The officers spend a lot of time patrolling the campus and catching students who are violating the no-smoking policy or nonstudents who sneak on campus to use the computer labs.
When they do find violators, Anchor said, his goal is more than punishment. He wants to connect with students to help them understand the rules.
Anchor said he learns their names, asks why they were acting out and explains why rules are in place.
“I get to actually be in the role of an educator by talking to young people,” Anchor said. “I get to be the role of mentor and talk to people who don’t really know what they want to do with their lives.”
Jennings-Joly said the switch from road patrol to campus cop was a welcome change. The two said dealing with domestic disputes and violent crimes can be draining.
“Here you’re working with the same kids on a daily basis, so it’s not just handle the call and be gone,” Anchor said.
At the end of her eight-hour shift, Jennings-Joly patrols the parking lot outside the cosmetology building to make sure students get safely to their cars.
She said her main priority is student safety, but there is a sense of pride that comes with being the founding officer in the college’s first police department.
“I’m just happy to be here and be a part of the building of the police department,” she said.