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PHCC looking into campus police

Monday, February 11, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) is proposing to establish a police department as part of efforts to improve campus security.

Crime and other mischief are rare on campus, according to Gary Dove, the college’s emergency planning coordinator.

When it happens, it usually is minor, he said — for instance, a fight between two students or someone reporting that a personal computer left behind in a classroom is gone when he goes back to get it.

However, there always is a potential for more serious crime to occur, said Dove, a retired lieutenant with the Martinsville Police Department. He mentioned the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech and the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut as examples.

Following those incidents, Dove said, “everybody (in education) is taking another look at how they do security and take care of students and other people on their campuses.”

PHCC is “a very safe, comfortable place for students to come and get their education,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to keep it that way.”

Wytheville Community College established a police department last year and most other community colleges in Virginia are in the process of starting their own, Dove said. He added that most colleges now think “a police department is the best way to go” to protect students from any potential trouble.

A formal plan to start a police department at PHCC will be presented to the college’s board later this month, said Public Relations Director Kris Landrum.

Plans are for PHCC’s police department to have a staff of five, including two sworn police officers as well as three security officers already working for the college, according to Dove.

If the college board and state officials approve the department, PHCC will advertise for police officers. Dove said the college hopes to be able to hire experienced officers. If it cannot, it would send its officers to the locally-based Piedmont Regional Criminal Justice Training Academy, he said.

He added that if a campus incident ever needs more response than PHCC’s police department could provide, backup from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia State Police and Martinsville police may be sought.

The college already has implemented some new security measures.

Generally, the “PHCC Alert” system has been used to deliver emergency messages — storm warnings, for example — to employees’ and students’ computers and mobile phones.

Dove said, though, that college officials have found locations on campus where it is hard for cell phones to receive the alerts.

For that reason, electronic speaker boxes have been installed in and atop campus buildings. The boxes will broadcast voice messages in emergencies.

Although the boxes are small, they are powerful. Dove said he has been told that when the speaker system has been tested, the outdoor boxes have been heard clearly at the Bowles Industrial Park down the road.

Unlike similar systems on other college campuses, PHCC’s speaker system does not have a siren, he said.

“Call stations” have been installed in campus parking lots and on sides of buildings. Press a button on a station and almost instantly “you’re in direct contact” with a security officer, Dove said.

When a button is pressed, an officer can hear what is going on in the area near the station. So in situations where it might be unsafe to speak, the officer still can realize there is an emergency and respond, Dove added.

PHCC now has an emergency phone line, 638-PHCC (7422), that people can call from their phones and be connected to a security officer.

Dove emphasized that someone should only call that number in an emergency.


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