Campus Safety Update: Q&A with John Conway, Director of Campus Safety

by Hannah Saulters
news editor

How did you become interested in law enforcement and campus safety?

I have always been interested in law enforcement and years ago went through training with the Hinds County Sherriff’s Department, went through the police academy, so I’m a certified officer. When that training finished was about the time they needed a director for this. I’ve been director since Aug. of ’06.

For context, can you give a play-by-play of what happened on Monday?

We received a call from the north side of campus from an employee who had seen someone in their outer office area that he didn’t recognize. He asked if he could help him and the individual ignored him and ran off. That employee then called campus safety and said that person just ran out of the building. So my officers responded and didn’t find him at the college center.

The next report came from the Christian Center, saying that somebody was in there, harassing students. So we responded to that thinking it was probably the same guy. So we were essentially playing cat and mouse with the guy. Then we did encounter him under the Academic Complex. He disregarded my officer’s commands to stop and eventually got in his car and drove off of campus. He got to the South gate and the gate coincidentally was still open because someone had just exited.

Later we found out that there was a backpack missing from the front porch at Reuben’s. Later, interviewing the students at the Christian Center, we found out he had said a couple of things that were sort of harassing to a female student.

Was a firearm drawn?

My officer, in an attempt to make him stop, drew his weapon and told him to get down on the ground. He began to comply with it and then jumped back up and ran and got in his car.

What are the parameters for when an officer is supposed to draw his weapon?

If we have a suspect. So if an officer feels like [a weapon] can help detain that suspect, it is within protocol to do that. He also followed protocol and holstered his weapon when the guy didn’t comply. That’s sort of the nature of a law enforcement officer. Just because we draw a weapon, doesn’t mean we use a weapon.

We don’t have to use our weapons very often at all. In our history [there has not been an instance] of one being discharged at all. Are there times we’ve asked people to comply with orders by using our weapons? Yes, that happens, but rarely. There have been, I would say, two cases in the past eight years.

What kind of training do student workers get when working with security?

They get primarily told that they are eyes and ears for me and for the department. In fact, [they] are told to only passively respond. For instance, in this case, the student patrol officer did exactly what he was told, which is to get on the radio and say ‘I see the guy under here [the AC].’ He is not to intervene. He does not actively involve himself in any chase or anything. He just reported what he saw, which is great; it’s exactly what we ask. They are equipped with a radio, a flashlight, and a whistle and are told to intervene in that way, but to never approach.

How many trained, full-time officers are on staff?

We have 13 full-time officers, but they are not all on duty at the same time. On that shift, we had two patrol officers, a dispatch officer, and an officer on the south gate. This semester we have seven or eight student workers.

What precautions can students take to make campus safe?

The first thing is what we saw the first employee do at the HAC and other students do later: Call 601-974-1234. I encourage students to program it into their cell phone. Call us. Let us determine that it’s innocuous. There’s nothing more frustrating for us as officers to hear, “Oh gosh, I saw that and wondered if I should call campus safety.”

The second thing to do is be aware of your surroundings. And take responsibility for your stuff, whether it’s unattended backpacks, laptops, iPhones, things like that. The incidents we face the most on campus are property theft.

If you look at the data for 2014, there were nine more [thefts] than the year before. That happened over a two-week period. It was probably one or two guys who were sneaking onto campus and stealing things when they could. One of the things I’ve been known to tell students is, “Don’t stock the pond.”

I also send out a property ID form at the beginning of each year and we encourage people to write down the serial numbers of their Playstations and laptops, just to keep up with that type of thing, so that if something does come up lost we can help them.

Is there anything else you want readers to know?

I want students to remain aware. This is a safe campus. Unattended stuff is not always safe, and that’s true anywhere. Our numbers are no different than lots of other colleges and universities around. For the size college we are and the urban environment we’re in, our numbers are pretty standard. So that’s my charge to the campus: Join me in helping you all be safe.

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