It is not uncommon to see a police officer on the Oklahoma City Community College campus. You might see an officer on patrol in a parking lot, or even happen to walk alongside the chief while you’re on your way to class.
There are inside and outside patrol officers on duty at all times at OCCC, the Professional Development Institute and the college’s FACE Center. In the past five years, their presence on campus has grown significantly.
The Campus Police Department was established in 2010 with small numbers, but has grown to currently employ 18 commissioned police officers on staff with five more in the process of being hired.Officer Jimmie Watts was one of the first three officers to be sworn in at the campus police department. Over the years, Watts witnessed the transformation from a security office to a full-fledged police department.
“Seeing first hand how the department has grown in these short five years has been amazing. It has transformed. The transition from security to police never ceases to amaze me,” Watts said.
Watts worked at Langston University as a police officer for four years before coming to OCCC. He feels that by working in a campus environment, he’s able to make a difference.
“I think with campuses and universities you really have more of an ability to impact young people’s lives,” Watts said.
For someone on the campus that gets in trouble, there are avenues for discipline other than arrest, Watts said.
“It gives us latitude as far as what we can do to tailor the situation to the student, to their circumstances, and to their background.” he said, “We’re able to take the needs of the student and the institution in mind when we make a decision.”
Officer Bryan Hansbro has worked at the department for a little over six months.
Before OCCC, Hansbro was at the Cleveland County Sheriff’s office. He acknowledged the differences between municipal and college police departments, noting the smaller jurisdiction and area covered.
“You’re confined to your campuses, rather than residential areas and businesses and so forth,” Hansbro said.
Despite the differences, his experience of working on a college campus has been a positive one.
“You get to interact with diverse people, you get to experience so many cultures, and that’s what’s exciting about it,” Hansbro said. “It’s really fun.”
Hansbro hopes that students who may be apprehensive about contacting the campus police know that the police are here to help them.
“You come here to learn, you shouldn’t have to worry about not being safe, that’s our everyday goal.” Hansbro said.
Officers being approachable is another goal of the department.
“Communication is key with everybody,” Hansbro said. “First and foremost, let’s be able to communicate and let them know we are approachable.”
Steven Swinford, Training Officer and Community Liaison, works to make sure that the communication between employees, students, and officers continues.
Swinford is in charge of the Community Policing Program.
“We have two officers that are assigned to go every week and make contact with several different employees and students and get feedback,” Swinford said.
The officers ask questions such as:
“How is the police department doing?”
“How often do you see a police officer?”
“What are your concerns?”
Swinford gets the reports on Friday, and on Monday he follows up on them.
“That has really increased the relationship we have with employees and students. We want to make sure they know that we’re here and we care, and that we have a really good rapport with the students and employees,” Swinford said.
Feeling a sense of community is a shared sentiment for police officers at OCCC. Swinford said he feels it too.
“I choose to be here because I love the students, I love the environment, I love the employees, and I love how this department is moving forward and growing,” he said.
When the campus was closed due to inclement weather on January 13, Swinford said he wanted to go to work rather than stay home.
Swinford credits his love for work to the leadership of both the police department and the college.
“There is no question that the leadership here, not just in the police department, but the leadership at the college is the best leadership I’ve seen,” Swinford said.
Chief of Police Daniel Piazza has been the leader of the department since February of 2016. He’s taken the department to a new level, according to Swinford.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of different law enforcement leaders and he’s one of the reasons I’m here. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here. He is that good,” Swinford said.
In the past year, the Campus Police Department has achieved the milestone of certification through the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Accreditation Program. They completed the certification process in record time.
Jim Spearman, the state program manager for the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police Law Enforcement Accreditation Program, said agencies will typically spend about 18 months on the process. The OCCC Campus Police Department completed the process in ninety days.
The support of the department by the administration of OCCC is apparent. President Jerry Steward has expressed support for the department since his start as the college president in July 2015.
“From day one of being hired here, the OCCC community has been open. They wanted law enforcement, they wanted to have that next level of professionalism of service. They were very welcoming of us from day one, and it only gets better,” Officer Watts said.
The Campus Police Department is located in the Main Building behind the OCCC Coffee Shop, and can be contacted in several ways.
Swinford highly recommends downloading the OCCC Shield App.
“You can go to the app store and download it for free, and once you have the app, all you have to do is tap it to open it. There’s a big red button that says “get help,” and it will dial the police department when pressed,” Swinford said.
For those users who are not within the boundaries of one of the OCCC campuses, the app will dial 911. The user can also file an iReport if they witness suspicious activity. The report can be anonymous, too.
To file an in-person report, a student can come into the campus police department, push any of the interior or exterior call boxes on campus, or call the department’s non-emergency line at (405) 682-7872.
In addition to enforcing the law and keeping the campus secure, the police provide simple services such as airing up flat tires and unlocking cars with keys locked inside. If students feel unsafe, the police can escort them to or from their car by request through a call or visit to the department. Resources for victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and stalking are also available in the office.