They are full-fledged police officers but they are also members of the campus community and, for many, friends in need.

In the days leading up to National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day on January 9, Ball State President Geoffrey S. Mearns stopped by University Police Department (UPD) Headquarters to personally thank officers for their service.

“What I hear consistently from our faculty, our staff, students and our visitors is that you not only make them feel safe, you make them feel welcome,” Mearns told the on-duty officers, administrators, and support staff.

“And the way you support the campus community and the way you support the success of our students is so distinctive. …  You really understand the balanced role that’s necessary in serving as law enforcement officers, and also as supportive and collaborative partners on our campus.”

Serving on a university campus has its own special challenges and rewards that make it an appealing career choice in law enforcement, said officers whose many contributions to Ball State were recognized.

Capt. Rhonda Clark’s career choice began in childhood

Capt. Rhonda Clark is a Ball State alumna.

Capt. Rhonda Clark decided she wanted to be a cop at a young age, after her family home was burglarized right before Christmas. “I decided at that time that I didn’t want any child to feel that again. So that became kind of my goal, to get into law enforcement, to make people feel safe and to serve the public.”

She joined UPD in 1990 as a patrol officer on the third shift and instantly felt Ball State was the right place for her. She has received three promotions over the years, and also completed a master’s degree at the University in 1999.

“I am proud of the work that I’ve done and want to continue to be a strong role model for my own children, as well as others that I am blessed to meet and serve in the community.

“I would encourage any woman interested in law enforcement to apply and experience the profession. You can make a difference.”

For Officer Justin Smith, every day a new challenge

When asked what makes his job meaningful, Ball State Police Officer Justin Smith described showing up at the scene of a serious traffic accident.

“To be able to get them help with the ambulance and to get their car where it needs to be, it really makes you feel good when you’re helping someone that’s in need like that,” said Smith, who serves as the department’s crime prevention coordinator, among other duties. “To be able to be there and support them and get them on their way to a safe place.”

Like Capt. Clark, Smith prides himself on being able to make a difference.

“I love law enforcement,” he said, “because each day brings new and unique opportunities to help others, make our community safer, and know my profession is making a positive difference to those around me.”

The best part of an officer’s day? Lunch with students

Lunch with a Cop program

Cpl. Robert Weller takes a meal break with a group of students as part of UPD’s Lunch with a Cop program.

One of the first big things Chief James A. Duckham wanted to do when he assumed command of UPD in 2015 was make community policing a top priority. Officers use both traditional and non-traditional methods to increase positive community interactions, he said. One of the most successful non-traditional programs is the department’s Lunch with a Cop. Since its inception in 2014, hundreds of students have shared meals at the Student Center with Ball State police officers.

Lt. Terrell Smith has described those lunches as “the best part of my day. Absolutely. Any time with students is the best part of the day.”

Lunch with a Cop is one of about a dozen programs incorporated into the community policing efforts of UPD. It’s a passion that’s been at the heart of Duckham’s approach to policing since he started out three decades ago.

For Officer Brock Bevans, UPD was ‘perfect fit’

University Police shieldOfficer Brock Bevans describes the job as a calling. The Yorktown native is also a Ball State graduate, receiving his degree in criminal justice and criminology in 2017.

“I chose to become a police officer to do meaningful work for those in my community. Law enforcement provides a different story each day and it requires police officers to be ready to answer the daily challenges they may face,” said Bevans.

“Having graduated from Ball State, I knew what a good place it was, and it seemed like a perfect fit for me.”