More than safe
Story by Suzanne Steel, Video by John Rice, Photography by Ken Chamberlain
Every police department enforces the law, but not many also serve as a community relations arm, a source of training, and a teacher of science, technology, engineering and math, commonly known as STEM.
Enter Ohio State University’s Wooster-based police force and its leader, Lt. Seth Walker.
Along with providing protection for the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences’ Wooster campus, Walker and his team cover environmental health and safety, emergency management, and biosecurity for the entire college, including all 88 county offices of Ohio State University Extension, the outlying agricultural research stations, and both the Columbus and Wooster campuses.
“We consider ourselves ambassadors of the college”Seth Walker
That involves understanding how to manage a lab fire when there are hazardous materials involved, thefts at a county office, or the occasional tornado or two.
“We need to look at safety through one set of eyes for the college and provide uniform oversight and policies,” Walker said, who is public safety manager and biosecurity director for CFAES.
That uniform oversight means CFAES benefits from trained professionals who are familiar with college programs, operations and personnel, said David Benfield, director of the Wooster campus and associate vice president of agricultural administration.
“We have a set of trusted individuals who we can rely on in the event of an emergency. Imagine in the middle of an emergency that you recognize the emergency personnel on the scene. It is a comforting experience because you know that they have your safety and the protection of CFAES property as their passion,” Benfield said.
Active shooter preparation
Part of the protection includes training faculty, staff and students in the event of an active shooter.
“We believe in identifying risks before they occur, and managing and mitigating those risks,” Walker said.
The safety team provides ALICE training — which stands for alert, lock down, inform, counter and evacuate — on the Wooster campus, which includes the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and a regional office of Ohio State University Extension.
“While we are a small campus, and we can think it will never happen here, we need to be prepared,” Benfield said. “The Wooster campus consists of a series of academic buildings with offices, laboratories and classrooms. We need to train our employees and students how to respond to the situation of an active shooter to prevent injuries and loss of lives.”
When a tornado hit the CFAES Wooster campus in 2010 causing significant damage, “the community helped and supported us,” Walker said. “We want them to know it’s a two-way street.”
Hence, Walker and his team provide training and support for nearby law enforcement agencies.
Because of their expertise, the Wooster Campus Public Safety Team trains area first responders to handle emergencies at research-intensive enterprises that contain hazardous materials. Besides the CFAES Wooster campus, many area businesses include research facilities, Walker said. Other public safety agencies return the favor with trainings in their own areas of expertise.
“In a small community such as Wooster, it is important that all public safety agencies support one another considering that all of us have limited resources,” Benfield said.
There also are times when the Wooster campus police can get to an emergency scene before city or county law enforcement. Twice in the past year, for example, CFAES Officer Justin Estill saved two people who had overdosed near campus. Not only was Estill able to get to the scene first, but the fact that he and other CFAES officers carry Narcan kits meant he was able to reverse the opioid overdoses.
Back to school
Seth and his team also helped teach STEM principles and their applicability to law enforcement careers at nearby Wooster Township Elementary school. They worked in collaboration with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office and the Wayne County Coroner’s Office to showcase the forensic science field.
Students learned fingerprint analysis and boot print analysis, and applied what they learned to a crime scene – the fictional theft of chocolate bars from the school.
A follow-up session will include a mock trial with a judge and prosecutors.
Walker said he hopes that working with the students will help ease tensions between law enforcement and communities.
“If we can have the opportunity to engage with a dozen or so young kids in a very positive setting, and their first interaction with law enforcement is a positive learning experience, then it’s a win-win,” he said.
Along with protecting campus and managing emergencies across the college, Walker considers community outreach an important component of the team’s work.
“We consider ourselves ambassadors of the college,” he said.