The transition period of having Vanderburgh County sheriff’s deputies regularly patrol campus has been going “extraordinarily well,” Director of Public Safety Steve Bequette said.
“The impact is readily apparent even though we have had off-duty deputies here a long time,” he said. “I think along with the announcement of everything, people are just paying more attention.”
He said the engagement factor with the deputies that have been assigned to campus has been going extremely well too.
“The people they picked to work out here have taken it to heart and really tried to engage the students and faculty,” Bequette said. “They made it a project to make sure they are visible and interacting.”
He said although the primary work of deputies is in their patrol car, officers do have a computer in the Public Safety office so they can access “the network.”
Bequette said the mission and ultimate goals of Public Safety have not changed.
“We have continued to do our job, and from the medical aspect of our position, most of our officers are EMTs, and that is invaluable to our campus community because we get there so fast,” he said. “We can assist someone who is having some type of illness or medical emergency.”
He said Public Safety is a rock on campus, and that’s not going to change.
“Something we have made sure our officers were well aware of when this project came about was that there would be no threat to their job because that would be a natural assumption getting replaced,” Bequette said.
He said one of the comments he has received most is about deputies on the side of road radaring cars who may be violating speed limits.
“They are not used to seeing that because we don’t allow our officers to make traffic stops unless it’s in the interests of campus safety because they aren’t armed or have the training,” he said.
The overall process of adding deputies on campus has been seamless, Bequette said. He said he gives a lot of credit to the recently-hired Assistant Director of Public Safety Sam Preston.
“There was a liaison factor that was even closer with (Preston),” he said. “I have been gone 10 years now (from the VCSO). Sam was supervising some of those deputies on campus now at the time and he has done a remarkable job.”
Bequette said that among sharing information, deputies respond alongside Public Safety officers on any call.
“I talk to the sheriff’s office almost on a daily basis, and specifically about the criminal investigations section if we have things that are going on,” he said.
The five newly hired Vanderburgh County sheriff’s deputies have been through hours of in-house training created by the university that deals specifically with higher education issues.
“Some of the deputies are our USI grads and are familiar with the campus but we let them know extra things they may not be,” he said. “We created some in-house training that (the deputies) spent 2-3 days on before hitting the street.”
Bequette said he hopes the partnership will continue to be successful as it has been so far.
“We do not foresee any reason it shouldn’t,” he said. “Right now everyone has taken to heart the reason they are out here and I know there may be some changes along the way, maybe personnel throughout the years, but right now things are good.”
A new space for security
A small sheriff’s office was originally established at the university in 2003 but was limited in use. Deputies only did paperwork and were not regularly patrolling the campus.
“The biggest attribute to having an office on campus is deterrence,” Director of Safety and Security Berry J. Hart told The Shield in 2003.
The office was in the convenience store building in marsh O’Daniel South, it was adjacent to the laundry facilities.
Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Bridges told The Shield in August that a new sheriff’s office, which was part of the university’s master plan, is still in the works.
“We have not specified the location yet, but it is part of the funding we received for Phase II of the PAC renovation,” Bridges told The Shield. “That was a sub-project of that, so we are looking to determine the exact location, but we will have an area that is very responsive to campus.”
He said as the campus grows and changes, the response time per area changes, so the university is looking to find a good central location.
“At this point, they will occupy space in our Public Safety building located by the University Center,” he said.