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Police at risk on college campuses/Craig Floyd

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by Craig W. Floyd
November 4, 2003
By all accounts, Sergeant George Sullivan, 43, was one of the most respected and likeable persons working at the University of Nevada, Reno Police Department. "He was the kind of sergeant who cared for his troops and who led by example," said his chief, Kenneth Sjoen.
Sergeant George Sullivan
Just after midnight on January 13, 1998, Sergeant Sullivan was continuing his tradition of exemplary law enforcement service. He was patrolling the University of Nevada campus just north of downtown Reno. Records show that he made a traffic stop outside the campus grounds at 12:24 a.m. Thirty minutes later, his body was found next to his patrol car, just inside the south end of the campus next to an information booth. The 18-year university police veteran had been killed by repeated blows to the head with a hatchet. Before fleeing, the killer grabbed Sergeant Sullivan's gun and ammunition clips.

The next night, an arrest was made after a four-hour standoff with police. The man who murdered Sergeant Sullivan had robbed two convenience stores using the stolen gun. A search of the suspect's apartment uncovered the hatchet used to kill Sergeant Sullivan. It had been purchased just a couple of days earlier with one purpose in mind-to kill a cop. It turns out that the man who murdered Sergeant Sullivan had selected his victim at random. Witnesses reported that in the days leading up the attack the man had repeatedly stated, "I want to kill a cop." The killer stalked and ambushed Sergeant Sullivan. According to police, "It does not appear that [George] ever had a chance."

Words of praise for the beloved officer, who left behind a wife and five children, came flooding in when word of his death spread. "His family was of the utmost importance to him," observed a former colleague, Debi Dearman. "But he was also very loyal to the university and guys who worked for him. Anyone who knew George remembered George because he was so nice."

"He was a real professional," added University President Joe Crowley. "[George] understood the difference between a campus and other precincts."

President Crowley's comments touched on a difficult challenge facing all university and college police officers-namely, respecting the unique nature of a college campus while facing the same dangers and uncertainties as all other law enforcement professionals. According to Gary Margolis, Chief of Police for the University of Vermont, there are approximately 30,000 law enforcement officers serving university and college police departments in the United States. Chief Margolis, who also serves as the general chair of the University and College Police Section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, says that these officers tackle all of the same issues as state, county and municipal officers, including homicide, drugs and sexual violence. Adding to the challenges faced by university police during the post 9/11 era is the increased threat of terrorism on college campuses, with their large student populations, crowded sporting events, and abundance of research facilities. With their close proximity to nearby towns and urban centers, Chief Margolis says that many campus police officers find themselves backing up officers from other departments and vice versa.

All of this can spell big trouble for campus police. In fact, according to the records kept by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), Sergeant Sullivan is one of 22 officers killed in the line of duty from university and college police departments.

The first was John E. Sutton, an officer with the University of Maine Police Department. On September 20, 1963, he suffered a fatal heart attack during a hostile arrest situation. The second was actually another officer who served with the University of Nevada, Reno Police Department. His name was Thomas A. Burner, and he was killed in an automobile accident in 1968.

The only multiple death incident involving university police officers occurred on May 31, 1977, when Gary Hart and Stanley Henney were gunned down trying to make an arrest. Of course, that does not take into consideration the case of Billy Paul Speed, an Austin (TX) police officer who was shot and killed on August 1, 1966, on the campus of the University of Texas. On that infamous day, a sniper named Charles Whitman climbed the Texas Tower and killed 17 people. It was one of the worst mass slayings in American history. One of the first to die was Officer Speed who was having lunch nearby when the shooting began.

Some of the deadly threats posed to campus police officers are somewhat unique to a university environment. For example, on August 24, 1990, Corporal Kevin Barleycorn of the University of Arizona Police Department was trying to disarm a man who had crashed a fraternity party when he was accidentally shot and killed by another officer on the scene.
But, on college campuses, like elsewhere, even the most routine of assignments for a police officer can sometimes become deadly. On June 8, 1997, Peter Johnson Jr., a Montgomery College (TX) police officer was on patrol when the slipped and fell from a loading dock wall, fatally striking his head. Corporal Phillip Lee of the Alabama State University Police Department was riding in his department vehicle on December 1, 2000, when it broke down. As he stood in front of the car, checking the engine, another vehicle crossed the median and struck and killed him. An investigation concluded that Corporal Lee was intentionally struck.
Officer Peter Johnson Jr.
On March 16, 1996, Officer Carmen J. Renda Jr. of the Youngstown State University Police Department suffered a fatal heart attack moments after giving foot chase to three suspects for tampering with university property.

Ohio State University Police Officer Michael Blankenship, 43, was shot and killed on February 10, 1997, when he and his partner responded to a burglary on campus. Officer Blankenship was a 19-year veteran of the department and left behind a wife and two children. University President E. Gordon Gee explained that Mike was devoted "to the ideal of a campus that is open to people, to ideas and to the free expression of those ideas. While this tragedy breaks our hearts, it must not break our spirits.
Officer Carmen J. Renda Jr.

Officer Michael Blankenship
"When training rookie cops, [Officer Blankenship] taught that law officers must make sacrifices to protect others . . . He was the type of person who, if he could, wanted to protect and serve 24 hours a day," President Gee added. "If it were any one of us and Mike were here, he would have made sure everyone else was okay before thinking of himself. Then he would have gone off by himself and had a good cry."


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