Georgia Regents University’s Department of Public Safety played the role of hero Jan. 19 when it caught two armed robbery suspects fleeing a Kroger grocery store, but officials with the department say that’s nothing new.
The state-certified agency boasts 45 sworn officers, 12 communications service officers, two majors and two detectives, making it more than capable of handling calls like some of the area’s larger police forces, said Maj. Eugene Maxwell, the assistant chief of police for operations.
“It’s not unusual for (convenience stores) to call us for shoplifters or unruly customers because they know we’ll get there first,” he said.
The department, which is also responsible for issuing identification cards and campus parking, handles about 500 cases each year, many involving theft, Maxwell said. In 2013, Georgia Regents public safety officers handled more than 456 cases, 114 of them theft.
Most of the thefts happened on or around the school’s Heath Sciences campus, which houses Georgia Regents Medical Center, according to documents provided to The Augusta Chronicle.
Georgia Regents Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety William McBride said the hospital typically sees about 5,000 patients a week, giving criminals plenty of opportunities to prey on unsuspecting people.
The department also handled 103 cases involving traffic offenses around the university’s Health Sciences and Summerville campuses in 2013, and made 88 DUI stops, keeping the department’s fleet of 12 marked cars busy.
“We started with traffic enforcement about five or six years ago,” McBride said. “We’ve come to find out that if you have a really robust traffic enforcement initiative, just that all by itself drives the crime rate down.”
The focus on traffic has also helped kindle a relationship between the department and the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, which lends a hand in areas not covered by the smaller agency.
“We’re not big enough to have a SWAT team and a drug dog team and a DUI task force,” McBride said. “When we need something like a bomb dog to help with a bomb threat, we’ll call Richmond County and they will do the search for us.”
McBride described the relationship as a “two-way street.”
“For example, if there was a riot or civil unrest somewhere in the city, we could send all of my guys,” he said. “Since Richard Roundtree was elected (sheriff), and since we’re state employees, he invited us to be Richmond County deputies as well.”
With officers duly certified as state and county agents, they can enforce county codes and issue tickets like deputy sheriffs, McBride said.
Being a certified state agent has its perks, too, Maxwell said. Each fall, the department sends 16 officers to stand guard in Sanford Stadium during University of Georgia home football games.
Officers are paid by the university’s athletic association and have full arrest powers within the stadium since it belongs to the Georgia Board of Regents, Maxwell said.
“It’s pretty good because it gives our guys a chance to make some overtime money and it’s kind of fun,” McBride said.
But despite the excitement off campus, McBride said, the department always has its eyes on the university’s most prized asset: Its students.
“Our No. 1 priority is to maintain a safe campus for the students,” he said. “Everything we do is geared toward that mission. No one is going to come to GRU if it’s a war zone.”