By Jess Pike
In early October, UMW senior Laura Hawkins helped catch a convicted sex offender, according to university police, who was reportedly harassing a female student on campus.
Hawkins, who works for the UMW Police Department as a member of the newly-formed Student Escort and Security Program, said she was sitting in Brent Hall, which houses campus police, when a female student called to complain that a man was following her on campus. All regular campus police were on patrol, so Hawkins immediately went to the scene between Madison and Virginia halls where she saw a man who matched the description in the complaint.
Wearing her Campus Security shirt and clutching a police radio, Hawkins stood in the shadows of campus walk near Lee Hall and kept the suspect in sight. She radioed her location to campus police and waited there until UMW Officer Skip Samuels arrived.
The suspect, Christopher Sherry, had a history of prior arrests and convictions for sex and property crimes, according to campus police. Though no charges were filed against Sherry in the campus incident, he was nonetheless barred from campus.
Hawkins was thrilled to have been a part of the case.
“I really enjoy helping secure the campus,” she said, “In my opinion the most exciting stuff happens at night.”
The incident was by all accounts one of the most exciting for any of the 12 student members of the Escort and Security Program so far this year—their job mostly involves locking down campus buildings at night—but all the students say they’re grateful for the opportunity to be involved with campus police.
And campus police say they are grateful in turn to have the student help.
“They are extra eyes and ears for the police department,” said Samuels, who supervises the student security detail. “They assist us with any of the police work, they go to the magistrates with us, they go to the jails with us, they help with search warrants as observers and they record information as we tell it to them.”
Samuels was quick to add that UMW police make sure none of the members of the student security detail are directly involved in dealing with criminal matters.
“They are hands-off,” he said. “They do not have any type of enforcement power although they can question and stop somebody to see what’s going on.”
According to UMW Police Chief James Snipes, the students’ principal contribution is taking care of mundane but necessary tasks required of the police department.
“Building lock-ups [handled by] the students free our patrol work from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.,” he said. “It allows officers to do more proactive police work.”
Snipes said any student is welcome to volunteer; however, the administration can only pay seven paid students at a rate of $7.50 an hour, and these students are limited to 10 hours of work a week. The five other students currently working with campus police are all volunteers.
Samuels praised the university administration for initiating the program.
“Without President Hurley’s help we wouldn’t have the funding we got for the students this year,” he said. “President Hurley has been supportive of this program from day one.”
Samuels said one requirement of the students is that they keep academics as their top priority and don’t allow police duties to get in the way.
Laura Hawkins says the members of the student security detail have gotten the message.
“From the very beginning, Sgt. Samuels said that schoolwork comes first, that if we have the exam the next day, we can come in another day,” she said. “He is very flexible.”
Student working for the Escort and Security Service are required to complete hands-on training with the UMW police department, including successful completion of a University Vehicle Operation Class, as well as training in the procedure for locking academic buildings and proper use of police communications equipment.
To qualify to be a member of the security team, students must be seeking a degree at UMW, maintain a minimum 2.0 cumulative GPA and successfully pass a Criminal History Check.
Student members say they’re excited about their opportunity.
“I really enjoy the job,” said sophomore Steve Karkos. “People always whine about how they can’t do anything to help themselves stay secure on campus. Now they can.”
“I plan on being in law enforcement” said Hawkins, “I really enjoy it and I’m really glad that we got to set it up.”
All students are issued police radios at the beginning of their shift and have access to the escort van keys, according to Samuels, who also said the students are supervised at all times by a member of the police department.
“We don’t allow them in harm’s way,” he said. “They observe, watch, and call us.”
Susan Knick, assistant vice president of Public Safety and Community Support Services, aided in the program’s initiation.
“I am proud of the students that have come forward to help,” she said in an email. “They clearly illustrate, through their work, that public service is a quality for which they stand. Not only are these students a credit to themselves, but their service reflects great tribute to their families/friends and UMW.”
Mary Washington isn’t alone in its use of student workers and volunteers helping with campus security.
The James Madison University Police Cadet program, formed in the mid 1970s, has approximately 50 student cadets who work different security functions throughout the JMU campus.
In July 2003, George Mason University implemented a similar cadet program run by campus police comprised primarily of student wage employees.