The sun has barely broken the Friday morning horizon and officer Jimmy Vickers already finds himself in a fight to restore order. This morning’s offender has a notorious record that has caused problems for many people: it is the infamous computer glitch.
He is at his desk in the Campus Safety office struggling to pull up a video. The desk itself is a reflection of order. There are no stacks of paper or cluttering knickknacks. The only thing that seems out of place is the bottle of T-9 bicycle lubricant.
That and the bicycle tire leaning against the drawers of his desk.
Looking at him, it would be hard to tell that the soon to be victorious computer was winning. Only the occasional tightening of his eyebrow diplays his puzzlement. Throughout the ordeal, he never sighs, groans or pantomimes throwing the computer out the window–something his academy training, fitness routine and miles of riding during his daily beat as a bicycle cop have conditioned him to be well-capable of doing. Instead, the peace officer and Minister of Music at his church keeps his calm.
Corporal Jimmy Vickers has a hard, stern face and speaks with a deep resonating voice. But when he talks about the uncooperative computer, a smile and a small laugh breaks the stone image. The computer could have been one of his two children being mischievous but harmless and, in the grand scheme of things, even amusing.
He finds the amusing side in some of the little frustrations that are part of the job, such as the tire that is propped against his desk. The pesky tire had been erratically losing air.
“Biking spoils you,” he said. “I love it. Of course, you’re more visible. A lot of the instructors compliment us on it because they like the idea that we’re out there and we’re close,” said Vickers.
He pauses then laughs.
“I like it because number one, the rest of the guys, when they get a call, have to find a parking spot,” he said.
In the room with him are Corporal Peggy Scott, an investigator and liaison to the Director of Student Judicial Programs and, further across the small room, Corporal Mike Moseley, the department’s primary investigator and a 20-year Campus Safety veteran.
His boss, Director of Campus Safety “Chief” Randy Melton is also present. Melton brought the tire in this morning after having picked it up from being repaired. He’s grinning.
“It’s really exciting police work here,” said Melton.
Vickers’ personable nature is an important part of his roles both as a bike patrol officer, of which he is also the team’s supervising officer, and as the coordinator of the TJC ambassadors. He likes being visible and interacting with the people he is responsible for protecting.
Building a sense of community is important to Executive Director of Campus Safety Tom Johnson, and he has noticed Vickers’ efforts.
“We’re trying to make it so that the police officers are part of the community and not separate from the community. We’ve been working real hard on that,” Johnson said. “I know that Corporal Jimmy Vickers has developed a really big, good network of working with students to try to help them out and things of that nature.”
Today, Vickers is spending some time patrolling in a car and on foot.
His first task is taking the campus’s daily deposit to the bank. Vickers was a Campus Safety guard for 14 years before going through the police academy and becoming an officer in May 2010. While at the bank, he talks fondly about how his wife of nearly 15 years is a source of strength for him. Then his eyes narrow slightly. His jaw tightens for a moment before he recounts some unsettling news he received as part of his early training at the academy.
“They told us in the academy that for law enforcement officers, [there are] three things that they’re prone to have to deal with. Number one is suicide. The other is alcoholism, and the other one is divorce,” he said.
Spirituality is also a big part of how he manages the stress that the job puts on him and his family.
“We’re a spiritually grounded family. We put God first,” he said.
While he is concluding his business at the bank, he gets a call on his radio. Someone reported that someone outside of the Potter building was not in compliance with the lanyard policy. He presses the gas pedal and the powerful police car surges. But that exhibition of acceleration does not lead to any sirens or TV-style police driving. He is in a hurry, but he controls his speed, stops at every stop sign and signals at every turn.
When he parks the car, he again comments on how much faster he is able to respond on his bike. There’s no fussing with parking and he can get just about anywhere on campus within 30 seconds instead of having to walk.
As it turns out, today’s car and foot approach slowed him down long enough for the alleged violator to move on.
Outside Potter Hall, Chief Melton and Corporal Moseley arrive en route to another destination. Melton says that Vickers is shy. There is brief banter about Vickers’ suggestion that the department implement a mandatory physical training regiment for all of the officers. Knowing Vickers was joking, the gray-haired and much older Moseley feigns a look of fear which causes the men to laugh.
Melton and Moseley resume travelling to their destination and Vickers decides to spend some time enforcing the lanyard policy. Every time he stops a student, he pulls out his Blackberry and checks their name against a database of previous offenders. He may have a sense of humor and use it often, but if a student is on the list then they will get a ticket and could face disciplinary action.
For Vickers and other Campus Safety officers, consistently enforcing the policy is a critical element in providing a safe campus.
“Most of my on-site arrests stemmed from people that are not wearing lanyards,” Vickers said. “And we find out that they are up here for no good. We prevent a lot of stuff.”
TJC serves a diverse community, part of which is young children who come to the campus.
“I found a convicted, registered sex-offender on campus. He wasn’t even supposed to be up here because we have an array of students ranging from eight and nine [years old] on up because we have the ballet program,” he said.
He believes avoiding or getting a ticket is each student’s choice.
“When it comes to tickets, we don’t give them out. They earn them,” he said.
While enforcing the lanyard policy, he gets another call over his shoulder-mounted radio. There has been some type of accident outside the southwest side of the student center.
When he arrives, officer Peggy Scott is already on the scene. A female student is sitting on the blacktop of the parking lot. Blood flows from a gash on her knee, the result of her ripping open an old scar. Officer Scott is tending to her.
“Where were you headed,” Vickers asks. “Were you headed to class or anything?”
“I was here to take my friend to the doctor,” she replied, then gave a small laugh.
Vickers could not suppress his own chuckle as he asked his next question.
“You were here to take your friend to the doctor,” he asked.
Turns out that not only was she there to take her friend to the doctor, she was there on her day off and simply took a misstep, tripped and fell. Her friend took her to the hospital. Both the student and officer Scott suspected the busted scar would need stitches.
From there, Vickers resumed patrolling in his car.
As he comes upon a white van, a man reaches out and waves for Vickers to stop. Vickers pulls up alongside the van, lowers the passenger window and speaks to the man. The man, a contractor with an electrical services company, is lost and looking for Interstate 20.
Vickers gives the man directions. He says that giving directions is a routine part of job.
“We give out a whole lot of information, not even college-related,” he said. “We have to be prepared with information.”
He considered that constant demand for information when he designed the training manual for the ambassadors. That manual includes all of the building codes, advisor information, support services and all types of numbers so they can call different departments.
“One thing I strive to do is prevent the campus runaround,” he said. “When visitors come up here, the last thing they want to do is go to Pirtle Technology and they were simply supposed to be at White Administration and that’s where they parked. Can you imagine their frustration?”
Another call comes across the radio, this one for a student needing their car jump-started. Vickers is grateful for having the car instead of the portable battery-boosters they used to use. The cars have an over-sized alternator and connectors that hang in front of the grill. The combination makes boosting fast and easy. Except for a bit of dirt on his hands, it proves to be a low-grime task. Within minutes, the student’s car is running.
He gets back in his car and heads back to the Campus Safety office. It has been a busier than normal Friday morning for officer Vickers. Throughout it, he has smiled during nearly every interaction with students and staff.
And with his newly repaired tire, he is eager to get out of the car and back on his bike. Because that is where he gets the greatest sense of being a member of the community he has served for the past 15 years.