A day in the life of Chemeketa’s public safety department

To Serve and Protect

On a cold, wet morning in February, hours before the sun caresses the Salem skyline, he begins his day.

He does not find it difficult to motivate himself to begin this early. In fact, he prefers it.

He checked the weather reports the night before and again around 2 a.m. The roads will not freeze over tonight; it should be safe driving tomorrow, he thinks.

It is not his job to drive or pay much attention to the weather, however.

His job is public safety.

While most people are still cuddled up in their warm blankets, fast asleep, Bill Kohlmeyer, the public safety director for Chemeketa Community College, is already making sure that people will have no inclement weather conditions preventing them from arriving at the college safely.

Had there been reason for wintery concern on this day, Kohlmeyer would have taken the necessary precautions in contacting the Salem Police Department, as well as the city’s K-12 officials to determine whether a closure needs to be announced.

Finding no need for undue concern, Kohlmeyer heads to work a little more relaxed.

At 5 a.m., he begins his workout.

Kohlmeyer, 60, is a stout man, thick and positively fit. He does not appear to be suffering any physical afflictions what-so-ever.

He’s the kind of man any person could feel comfortable getting behind in an emergency.

His steely blue eyes and friendly smile mask an intense ferocity that can only be detected by hearing his voice.

Calm and cool, Kohlmeyer could be anyone’s father or grandfather – a man whom you feel no apprehension in looking to for protection, but still tiptoe around, just a little.

At 7 a.m., he unlocks the door to his office and flips on the light, revealing a mountain of paperwork on top of his desk.

Printed e-mails, reports, notes, books, and other miscellaneous papers occupy the entirety of his desktop.

“I meant to get to this yesterday,” Kohlmeyer says.

Filing is not his top priority, he admits. But in a position such as his, one where students and staff alike, look to him for answers and protection, should it be?

Kohlmeyer sits at his computer, behind his paper mountain, and begins checking his email.

Phone calls, emails, and reports will start his official workday.

First on the agenda: Checking on an upcoming, multi-cultural event for any potential threats.

“They’ve done this here at Chemeketa 3 or 4 times now with no problems. But immigration reform is kind of front and center right now in people’s minds, and I just want to make sure there’ll be no protests… and that the event will come off as peaceful,” Kohlmeyer says.

“All I really care about is that people have the ability to have their say in a safe place and in a peaceful manner.”

He scours public Facebook pages dedicated to Immigration Day, looking for any posted threats.

At 10 a.m., he is scheduled to be at a meeting in downtown Salem where he is part of a threat assessment team.

This team meets every Tuesday and is composed of representatives from various educational and public service backgrounds. Their mission is to identify, assess, and manage situations where the risk of violence is imminent and/or anticipated.

Kohlmeyer wants to bring up Immigration Day, and ask if anyone else has heard anything.

Until the meeting, though, he will continue his morning routine. Perhaps he will be able to respond to a few of the 176 new emails that he has received since yesterday.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, Jedi Master

“This job has kind of changed since I’ve taken over. If you look at my job description, it only says, I will assist the public safety director in the day-to-day running of the department. So basically, whatever he wants me to do, I do.” – Sgt. Robert “Bob” DenHerder, Department of Public Safety

At 7 a.m., after punching in and suiting up in the campus security officer uniform, newly hired trainee Dwayne Mitzel begins his shift right where he left off the day before.

Mitzel, 52, thin, and of average height, doesn’t look like a typical trainee. Much like many students at Chemeketa, he’s what they call non-traditional.

After experiencing the U.S. economic downturn first hand, he had to abandon his career as a surveyor and begin looking for work wherever he could find it.

Using his stint in the Marines as a background for experience, he began working the over-night patrol at Chemeketa through the private security company the college occasionally uses.

But when the opening presented itself, he immediately took the opportunity to apply as an official campus security officer.

Today, he’s two weeks into his training.

“We found this bag in the bushes last night but didn’t have time to go through it then,” Mitzel says.

The bag in question had been in the bushes for a little while, its contents completely saturated.

Inside the large black bag are clothes and a separate pink, leopard print handbag. All are meticulously searched for some kind of indicator as to whom this bag may belong.

Mitzel, with black rubber gloves, finally uncovers a wallet.

It contains a credit card as the sole form of I.D., along with a picture of a young couple that appears to have been taken at a Chuck-E-Cheese.

Pulling the card from the wallet, he bags it all back up and puts the wet pile into a translucent garbage bag, tying a knot to prevent any of the articles, or moisture, from escaping.

He sets the bag on the floor and hands the card to Sgt. Robert “Bob” DenHerder.

“This is all I found,” Mitzel says.

“A common name,” is all DenHerder offers in response.

DenHerder knows that it’s unlikely they’ll ever find the owner, but they’ll keep it for now anyway.

Sitting at his desk, DenHerder, a 53-year-old father of four, checks his email and views the reports from the day before.

A plethora of policy books for the campus and the state of Oregon line his wall.

He’s read them all.

These notebooks are only disrupted by a not-so-out-of-place title, Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

The man appears to be all business.

After looking over the previous day’s log, he stands, all six-foot-two of him, and heads out the door with his trainee in tow.

At 8 a.m., DenHerder and Mitzel begin their patrol.

There are nine officers currently employed at Chemeketa, with two, sometimes three, working their 10-hour shifts at the same time.

Normally, DenHerder is responsible for all things needed to keep the office running: ordering equipment, scheduling vehicle maintenance, scheduling officer hours, maintaining the budget, staying in constant communication with Kohlmeyer.

But for the past few weeks, and for a few more weeks to come, DenHerder is also Field Training Officer DenHerder for officer Mitzel.

Today, FTO DenHerder drives the patrol car. Mitzel is told that he will handle face-to-face situations and radio communication with dispatch.

With 20 years of experience at Chemeketa, DenHerder knows how to train.

He is patient and shows authentic concern for Mitzel. It’s obvious that DenHerder wants Mitzel to succeed, and he provides him every opportunity to do so.

In going over the day’s agenda, DenHerder repeats the words “officer safety” multiple times.

The lights atop the patrol car can be seen moving slowly, methodically, up and down, back and forth through the parking lot’s rows of cars, much like a shark’s dorsal fin between ocean waves.

Much like a shark, the two officers within the vehicle are also constantly looking for threats and abnormalities within their territory.

The first abnormality to arise this morning is a school bus.

Although not normally strange to find on a college campus, this particular bus stands out in its location and the way in which it is parked.

The bus is in the green lot, and taking up roughly six parking spaces. Salem-Keizer School District is written prominently along the side.

After calling dispatch to get some information on the bus (why it’s here and parked in such an inconvenient way), the officers are told that it’s for a group of kindergarteners who are visiting the campus planetarium.

Mitzel sees a man walking around the bus. As the patrol car closes in he seems to be moving as though he’s trying to stay out of view.

After parking the patrol car, Mitzel and DenHerder both get out.

DenHerder nods for Mitzel to take the lead and offers a couple of quick reminders on how to approach the vehicle, his eyes moving rapidly between Mitzel and the mystery man.

As Mitzel nears the front of the bus, the man emerges into view.

His graying facial hair is long and shaggy. His dirty shoes and trousers are both full of holes.

His appearance is startling, but Mitzel doesn’t react.

The man proceeds to tell Mitzel that he’s the bus driver and that his kids are visiting the college’s planetarium. He gives Mitzel his bus license and the trainee calls dispatch.

After getting the all-clear, the officers advise the bus driver to park in a less populated location when visiting the college in the future and then return to their patrol car.

DenHerder then gives Mitzel a brief but thorough critique and evaluation of his observations.

The FTO then asks the trainee to repeat what he heard and give a replay of the incident along with the addition of what he will do the next time.

DenHerder grades Mitzel on roughly 20 different viewable skills throughout his training by using a number system that he tracks in a log.

The number system ranks the trainee from 1 to 7.

“One being bad, and seven being Jedi Knight kind of stuff. Four is about where you want them to be,” DenHerder says. “And he will stay with me until all of these are at least four.”

Having been satisfied with Mitzel’s training exercise, they continue their patrol.

“Sgt. DenHerder does not give out 7s,” Mitzel says with a smile.

“Not unless I’m floating at the end of the day,” DenHerder replies.

Rigorous training, indeed.

Managing Numbers

After lunchtime, Kohlmeyer returns to his office from his meeting with the Threat Assessment team.

“This is my life here,” he says while looking down at his paper mountain with an ironic smile.

“These piles of paper I’ve been trying to get rid of for I don’t even know how long… believe it or not, I know where most stuff is here.”

He pulls a report from the mountain that shows the number of times certain incidents have occurred over the last three years.

“In 2010, the number of thefts from vehicle – what we call ‘car clouts’ – was 59,” Kohlmeyer says.

Last year, it was only 23.

He believes more officers and better patrols, as well as better parking lot surveillance, is the direct cause of such an exponential decrease.

“But here’s one thing that’s one of my biggest frustrations,” he adds, “door unlocks.”

“The unlocks are the people who didn’t bring their key, forgot their key, whatever it is – and call us to unlock their room or office. And some people don’t bring their keys because they don’t feel like carrying them. Some people don’t bring their keys because they haven’t been issued yet or they left them at home.

“I add these numbers together and I wonder what my officers could be doing if they weren’t unlocking doors,” he says exasperated.

“This is a 100% employee problem. This has nothing to do with students. We even have employees call us 15 minutes before they get here and ask us to have their room open for them when they get here.”

He chuckles, “We don’t do that.”

Over the last three years, the door unlocks have gone up from an already high number of 1,427 times to an even higher 1,536 times.

While crime is decreasing, irresponsibility seems to be increasing.

The other part of this door problem also comes from how many doors the officers are finding propped open after the class has ended, Kohlmeyer adds.

Of the staff that has their door opened by security, a few leave it propped afterwards so as not to require another door unlock.

Only, they seem to forget, Kohlmeyer says. And then they leave the door propped after they have left, once again requiring the services of campus security to properly close the door.

Really?

Kohlmeyer’s frustrations appear well-warranted.

Also within his report is the number of smoking-on-campus violations.

Over the last 3 years, during which time Chemeketa went ‘smoke-free,’ smoking violations have increased from 60 to 944.

The doors and the smoking violations are all things that could be avoided, Kohlmeyer says.

He hopes that these types of problems don’t stem from a basic lack of respect for the campus security position.

“Are you the Keymaster?”

“Not that I know of.”

– Ghostbusters, 1984

“I can’t help but take personal responsibility for these guys,” DenHerder says. “So if they do something wrong, I always start rethinking what I trained.”

Mitzel has been in training for two weeks and will remain in training for another six.

He remains under DenHerder’s watchful eye to ensure proper training is conducted.

This protects the trainer, the trainee, and the college.

At the end of his 8 weeks in training, Mitzel will have had to fulfill all trainee requirements, express adequate knowledge of all procedures and policy codes, and be aware of the location of all the safety devices on campus.

Having been the over-night security for Chemeketa prior to this gives Mitzel a leg-up.

But regardless of his basic knowledge, the training given by DenHerder is extensive and exceeds most state requirements.

DenHerder is no stranger to adversity either; and unfortunately for his trainees, when he says that he won’t make them do anything he wouldn’t do or hasn’t done, that encompasses an awful lot.

Due to diabetic complications, DenHerder took a trip to Spain for a surgery that would have cost more in the states.

It helped him to reduce his weight by 100 pounds.

Also, on May 30, 2006, while on his way to work, he was involved in a traffic accident while riding his motorcycle that crushed his shin and left him in a hospital for 14 months.

At one point he was told that he might lose his right leg, just below the knee.

After 17 surgeries, exhaustive physical therapy, and rehabilitation, he not only kept his leg and continues to walk, but he was also able to return to Chemeketa as campus security.

During the foot patrol through building 8 and 9 his limp is noticeable, but doesn’t appear to affect his mobility too much.

The officer’s presence in the hallway is unobtrusive as they walk slowly, deliberately through the buildings.

“We don’t want to disturb any classes,” DenHerder says.

Mitzel stays behind and to the right of DenHerder just a few paces.

The pair draw looks and gazes from students who wonder why they’re here.

“When we have contact with somebody,” DenHerder says, “it’s usually the low point of their day.

“I’ll bet if we stood here long enough, they’d really start to wonder what we’re doing.”

Rather than cause a student to suffer an anxiety attack, however, the pair make their way back out to their vehicle to resume their patrol.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Bill [Kohlmeyer],” DenHerder says. “He puts us out there. He makes sure people are aware of what we do. He goes to meetings and tells people what we do.

“It used to be like we were the silent service…but it has really changed for the better on this campus over the last 5 years.”

DenHerder encourages the other officers to take at least two foot patrols per shift.

Sometimes, however, those foot patrols are increased due to calls asking for officers to unlock doors.

“The really frustrating thing is when you go up because somebody wants a door unlocked,” DenHerder says, “and they ask, ‘what took you so long?’ Really? I hope your car isn’t getting broken into right now because I’m here, opening your door.”

DenHerder says that he sometimes feels like it’s a lack of appreciation for his position.

He expresses empathy for the staff that may legitimately require the unlock service due to conditions out of their control, but otherwise hopes it’s not just disrespect.

That seems to be a common desire among Chemeketa’s public safety staff.

The Chosen Ones

“Some of our officers have law enforcement backgrounds, some of them have been reserves at other departments, and one or two of them have been full-time [police] officers,” Kohlmeyer says.

But not every officer hired has that kind of experience.

“We put the notice out that we’re accepting applications – these are the minimum standards and these are the preferred qualifications, and people will submit their resumes to a screening committee,” of which he is a part, he says.

“Then we sit down and go through the applications and give scores based on qualifications. Then we use that numerical score to narrow the field down to where we’ve got a manageable number to interview.

“One time, we had an opening for one officer and we received 84 applications.”

Kohlmeyer says the committee looks for people with some semblance of customer service skills, as well as the ability to handle stressful situations.

They don’t require a public safety or criminal justice background, necessarily.

“To be unarmed public professional security, to receive that type of certification, the state requires only 12 hours of training,” he says.

“Up until 3 years ago, the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, that sets the standards for law enforcement, fire, corrections, private security, and private investigators, had ran a 5 week academy, once a year, that was specifically designed for campus public security.

“But they cut that out due to budget reasons; and now we kind of scramble around trying to find good, quality training.”

As of right now, potential trainees are forced to drive out of state, in some instances, to get the training required to be a campus security officer.

But Kohlmeyer has other plans.

He would like to establish the facility at the campus in Brooks as the place in Oregon to have that 5 week academy.

The only problem is housing.

“It’s expensive for a college in Klamath Falls to send a public safety officer up here to live in a hotel for 5 weeks. That’s a huge expense, and we don’t have any dorms. So we’re working with Corban University to utilize their dorms in the summertime,” Kohlmeyer says.

This achievement would mean that all over Oregon, schools could send their campus security to Chemeketa for the proper training at a substantial decrease in cost.

“When school is in, we become the 3rd largest city in Marion County,” Kohlmeyer says. “We need to take our training seriously.”

The Long Drive of the Law

Back in their patrol car, DenHerder informs Mitzel that it’s time to make their daily trek to the campus at Brooks.

Each officer, along with their two foot patrols, is asked to make one trip to Brooks each shift.

“We’re basically going out there to show them the colors and let people know, ‘yeah, we’re around,’ ” DenHerder says.

They had been going to the Santiam campus also, until it closed down.

DenHerder says that he tries to get out to each Chemeketa campus during the course of a week to maintain a presence in those otherwise far-out locations.

“We just go up and drive through the lots – then we come back,” he says.

The majority of incidents occur on the Salem campus, but to ensure that the other campuses don’t feel neglected, DenHerder likes to make those longer trips himself.

Today, however, he won’t be forced to drive the twenty miles to Brooks and back all alone.

Chemeketa’s criminal justice and fire safety programs are both located on the Brooks campus.

“It’s the worst place you could possibly think to commit a crime because there’s always a cop there,” DenHerder says with a laugh.

“But it’s good to give the guys an opportunity to get off campus; it gives them some breathing room. You can only go around in circles so many times.”

The Brooks campus is quiet; only a lone student playing basketball in front of one of the garages can be seen.

The officers pull in and make their loop of the campus without incident, almost.

At the far back of the campus, behind a chain link fence and between two berms sits a white, hatchback, ’96 Ford Escort.

“That is just an odd place to put a car. It’s kind of hidden out there – you can hardly see it,” DenHerder says.

Mitzel calls dispatch to run the license plate. At ten miles from the main campus the radio still works.

Dispatch informs the officers of the vehicle owner, but otherwise provides no information as to why the vehicle would be there.

After returning to their patrol car, they drive to the main building on the Brooks campus.

Inside, DenHerder is told that the vehicle is going to be used for fire scene reconstruction and investigation, but is thanked for noticing and following up.

On the drive back to Salem, DenHerder tells Mitzel that he’s satisfied with the resolution.

“We found out that it’s not dumped there and we don’t have to worry about it anymore, and now those people are like, ‘wow, those guys are really on the ball.’ So, it’s an educational thing as well. They know that we’re out here doing something now,” he says.

Mitzel replies, “That’s what I like about the job. Other people are in their own departments, and sometimes that’s the extent of their interaction, whereas we get to interact with everyone.”

A Day in the Life…

Kohlmeyer’s phone seems to ring every five minutes.

A wanted man, he is constantly on the move.

What happened yesterday? What’s happening today? What’s going to happen tomorrow?

“You just don’t clock off and go home,” he says.

At home, he thinks about work; at work, he thinks about work. One might assume he’s a machine.

However, far from the capabilities of any machine, the retired Salem Police lieutenant is simply dedicated.

His time spent serving in the military, along with his 30 plus years in almost every area of law enforcement has given him certain savoir-faire.

Kohlmeyer is more than qualified for his position at Chemeketa, which he’s proven over the last five years he’s spent here.

Nevertheless, he remains humble.

He’s quick to give credit to every facet of the public safety department, while preferring to take none for himself.

“We take security seriously here, and we have people out here working at it,” he says.

And he’s happy with that.

With the reports, the meetings, the phone calls, and the paper mountain – he still enjoys what he does.

“It’s providing a service,” he says. “And making sure this is as safe a place as possible so you can go to school.

“I have a lot of respect for the guys that go to work every day to provide for their families, and work hard at a job they don’t like just to make it happen.

“I got lucky, I love my job.”

…of Chemeketa’s Public Safety Department

DenHerder and Mitzel return from Brooks and head straight to the public safety office at building 14.

The office is shared with assets from the Salem Fire Department, as well as the Marion County and State Police Departments.

Mitzel grabs a bite to eat while DenHerder sits down at his desk to follow-up on emails and reports from yesterday.

“When I was younger I looked at this job as just a stepping stone,” DenHerder says. “And the more I worked here, I thought, ‘y’know, this isn’t really that bad.’

“My kids get free school, my wife gets free school, I get free school… How do you put a price on that?

“I like the work. It’s the closest thing to being a cop that you can be without actually being a cop.”

The officers on campus wear Kevlar vests and are expected to make decisions that may put people in jail, or have to pay large amounts of money.

The job can be dangerous. The decisions they have to make are not decisions that can be made thoughtlessly.

The training and the hiring process for each officer reflects how seriously the job is taken, and they rely on each other for protection and input.

DenHerder says, “I’ll tell everybody here, I’m not infallible. I will make mistakes. And if you see I’m making one, I would really appreciate you throwing up the red-flag so I can step back and maybe reconsider what I’m doing.”

Each officer knows that he can trust the one next to him to help him out in any situation – as back-up or a resistant hand on the shoulder.

This trust applies to the dispatchers and all the way up to Kohlmeyer as well.

The public safety department shows a dedication to each other and the college that may be hard to find in other departments.

And at the end of the day, when all the students and staff have gone home for the night, they continue to serve and protect.

DenHerder and Mitzel both express pride in their position.

The training is no joke, and the seriousness of their work is a testament to that.

The radio on DenHerder’s hip suddenly crackles to life.

“Unit 3?”

Kohlmeyer’s voice is heard distinctly over the buzz.

“Unit 3,” DenHerder responds.

“Come see me,” Kohlmeyer says sharply.

“That’s only the third time today,” DenHerder says with a smile. “Must be a record.”

Mitzel smirks, closed mouth, grabs his gloves and notepad, and follows his FTO out the door.

A day in the life of Chemeketa’s public safety department never really ends.

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