Early on a Thursday morning in an otherwise-empty Rice Hall, Anderson University Police Department officers point plastic guns at a projector screen and caution the on-screen actors to calm down and lower their weapons. The characters react according to the shouted orders and advance on the officers from all angles—sometimes hoisting an aimed gun. The simulation is just one of the many training sessions that the officers go through each year to prepare for potentially dangerous situations.
“I think a lot of students don’t realize that we are a fully sworn police department capable of making arrests,” says Officer Rick Garrett, who serves as director of police and security at AU. “We carry firearms just like any other police department in the state.”
AUPD is a 24 hour, 7 days a week service. During the weekend when there are no police officers on duty, security guards, many of whom are retired police officers, are on duty. Officers and guards must be prepared to respond to every call—sometimes life-threatening ones.
“We respond to anything from jump starts and students getting locked out of their vehicles or dorm rooms to reports of persons with guns on campus, or someone experiencing cardiac arrest,” says Garrett. “You never know what call is going to be next.”
Officer Ron Meister, who often goes by “Gunny,” a nickname nodding to his service as a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps, works the night shift and answers approximately six to eight calls of importance per night. A few of these calls have led to some memorably dangerous situations, including a fire in Morrison Hall. Meister remembers crawling through the smoky halls, knocking on doors to warn students of the growing fire.
“Just as I was going to put the fire out, I saw the flames coming at me—and the sprinkler system went off, which is the most amazing thing that ever happened in my entire life,” says Meister. “I was soaked, but the biggest thing was the steam of the fire, which was coming right at me. The building was burning, there was smoke and water was pouring down—a firefighter grabbed me and pulled me out of the building, because I was going in the wrong direction.”
Meister has encountered many more fires in his 14 years as an AUPD officer, including a house fire on March 17.
“I was just doing our regular routine checks of our parking lots and I looked left and thought ‘there’s just something out of place there,’” says Meister.
His senses led him to a burning house, and he quickly took action to help residents escape and to give necessary aid as a medical first responder. For Meister, the situation reinforced the idea that AUPD officers must be prepared for any kind of situation while they are on duty.
“The most difficult situations to deal with are those involving children,” says Garrett, who speaks also from his 35 years of service as a Madison County Police Officer. “But there have also been some funny moments as well. Things are a lot calmer here at the university than they were in my past experience. It’s a nice change not having to deal with domestic situations and neighborhood issues and the death scenes you go to. I’ve been fortunate not to see any of that since I’ve been here.”
Some of the most positive and memorable moments Garrett has had on AU’s campus involve interacting with the students.
“In this type of law enforcement you get more of a chance to interact with the students,” says Garrett. “In my past experience, we had 450 square miles and we didn’t get much of a chance to interact with the citizens. Here at the university you are constantly in contact with the students and faculty and staff, and get to know everybody on a personal basis.”
Meister, who works with Student Security Officer Aaron Bergman on the night shift, agrees that getting to know the students is his favorite aspect of serving at AU.
“My favorite part here is working with the students,” says Meister, who has children and grandchildren of his own. “I just love kids.”
Bergman says that working with Meister and with the other officers is enjoyable for him as well.
“I was majoring in Pre-Med and had absolutely no interest in criminal justice until I started working for this office,” says Bergman. “I got hired on and started doing ride-alongs with the officer on duty for night shift, and it really just peaked my interest, along with hearing stories that Gunny had. I switched my major to Criminal Justice and have loved it ever since.”
Although working for AUPD can be demanding and intense work, it seems to be immensely rewarding for the officers who work diligently to keep AU’s