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PHCC police to be accessible, alert

Thursday, May 2, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Gary Dove wants Patrick Henry Community College’s new police department to be friendly and accessible but always on the alert for trouble.

Police officers will regularly patrol the campus — in a car and on foot — to make sure everything is in order. But they also will be trying to get to know people on campus in hopes that people will trust them and feel comfortable with their presence, said Dove, the department’s chief.

“My main goal,” Dove said, “is to do everything in our power to make students, faculty and staff feel safe.”

PHCC on Tuesday received final authorization it needed from Henry County Circuit Court and the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) to set up a police department.

PHCC officials have said that crime on campus is rare and usually minor — such as thefts of personal items left behind in classrooms — but it always is possible for more serious crimes to happen.

Dove said a lot of effort will focus on educating people about how to prevent crime and what to do if they become crime victims, he said.

He is encouraging people to stop by his office in West Hall and discuss their concerns about crime with him, or just to chat for a while.

That includes students, he emphasized.

“We’ll never be too busy to talk to students,” Dove said. “Students always come first.”

When people feel comfortable talking with police, they feel more at ease reporting any crimes or unusual situations they see on campus, he said.

“There is no information that we won’t follow up on” after it is received, Dove said.

The chief and an officer who has not yet been hired will comprise PHCC’s two-person police force.

Dove said the college will advertise the officer’s job soon. He said he would prefer to hire someone with law-enforcement experience who is certified by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services so the person can quickly go to work without having to undergo training.

College police officers will carry pistols and have authority to make arrests, Dove said.

After the other officer is hired, at least one police officer will be on duty from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. weekdays, he said.

Private security guards who already work for PHCC will be on duty on weekends when the college is closed, he added.

The Henry County Sheriff’s Office and Martinsville Police Department will back up the campus police department if necessary, according to Dove, a retired lieutenant with the city police.

Now, more than half of the state’s community colleges have police forces.

The VCCS has been pushing its colleges to establish police departments as part of efforts to improve campus security in response to tragedies such as the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech and the December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.

A shooting incident at New River Community College’s satellite campus in Christiansburg in April did not influence PHCC’s decision to launch its police department, Dove said. He noted that planning for the department started more than a year ago.

But the shooting “puts you more on guard,” he said. “It makes you realize you need to keep your eyes and ears open” for the potential for trouble.

Dove said that as police chief, he will continue to be PHCC’s emergency planning coordinator.


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