It’s not a 9-to-5, sitting-behind-a-desk job. For the KSU police, their 24-hour job cycle requires plenty of teamwork.
From the initial call to the end of an investigation, the Kent State Campus Police respond to the university’s needs and provide services to students.
The phone rings. A campus police dispatcher answers, “911, where is your emergency?”
Working an overlap shift from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., four days a week, is Paul Rothenbacher. As a campus police dispatcher, he handles emergency and non-emergency calls from the university and Brimfield Township.
Hired in January of 2005, Rothenbacher has the responsibility of obtaining information from callers and transferring it to officers.
“Primary importance is the location. If that’s the only piece of information we get, we can at least get the officers on the way, and they can determine what’s going on,” he said. “The more information the officers have, the safer they are, and the better able they are to do their job.”
But the information a dispatcher deals with varies, depending on the situation.
“Anything you could possibly imagine has at one time come in through an emergency dispatch center,” he said.
Rothenbacher said the pace of work can also vary.
“It can be 100 miles an hour one minute and a dead stop at the next.”
He experienced a “shock to the system” during the first few weeks of his training at the university when a triple homicide occurred in Brimfield.
“At any moment, at any day, the most serious incident of your life could come in that you just have to hope you’re ready for it and rely on your training,” he said.
An officer receives a dispatch message via the patrol car’s touch-screen computer and drives to the scene.
During the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. day shift, Officer Michquel Penn patrols the campus, ready to respond to calls and provide services.
She began working at the university in 2006, and although she isn’t sure what drew her to law enforcement, Penn said she’s been interested in police work since middle school. Growing up in the east side of Cleveland, however, might have had an impact on her career.
“Seeing some of the negative images of the police and just wanting to be able to help people that needed assistance,” she said, seemed to have an effect.
While working for campus police, she has been on midnight shifts as well as daytime.
“Both shifts can be busy, just in different ways,” Penn said.
At night, officers deal with more alcohol-related crimes and patrol the campus for suspicious behavior. Day shift officers more often deal with non-emergency, community calls and traffic accidents.
“A lot of times, we respond to the initial call, initial report, and we take the basic information,” Penn said. “We try to get as much information as we can, as many leads as we can, to bring back for the detectives.”
The police report is completed and, if needed, detectives begin to investigate.
As lieutenant of investigations, Carl Sweigert is responsible for reading the police reports and assigning detectives to specific cases.
“In addition, myself and my fellow detectives have had specialized training to go to crime scenes and gather evidence, and we’ve had special training on how to interview people and things of that nature,” he said.
The three detectives, along with Sweigert, usually work Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Each week, one detective must be on call 24 hours a day in case officers need assistance with a serious offense.
Detectives generally follow up on cases needing more specialized skills and handle confidential, political or sensitive cases, Sweigert said.
“Here you get a lot of time to analyze cases, try and bring things together, hypothesize what’s going on,” Sweigert said, adding that they “have plenty of theories that never quite pan out, but occasionally they do, and it’s a very exciting time.”
Sweigert eventually became lieutenant of investigations by what he calls a “serendipitous occupational choice.”
He was a biology major at Kent State, beginning in 1973. After attending the university for six years without graduating, Sweigert applied at the campus police because he needed a job.
“Then I began spending year after year here,” he said. “The next thing I know, 15 years had gone by.”
Sweigert said he involved himself in the detective bureau and asked questions of cases that needed extra work. So, when an opening for detective bureau supervisor was available, he was asked to fill the position.
“But a lot of it comes down to kind of showing what you can do once you’re out in the field,” he said.
While detectives and officers respond to and investigate cases, the shift sergeant oversees the officer’s operations.
Working day shift from Friday to Tuesday is Sgt. Joe Hendry. He supervises officers and is in charge of equipment like patrol cars, uniforms and firearms. Hendry is also an instructor on using the Asp baton officers carry, chemical agents and preventing and responding to suicide bombers.
“As police officers, you kind of wear a lot of different hats,” he said about all aspects of police work, from unlocking cars to helping with roommate issues or child removals.
In 1985, Hendry came to Kent State as a telecommunications major but soon became interested in law enforcement.
“As I got further along into my major, I enjoyed it, but I realized that that probably wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he said.
After working as a security aide and seeing the differences police made at the university, Hendry applied for campus police in 1989 and was hired a few months after his 23rd birthday.
After working at Kent State for almost 19 years, he said there have been many incidents that stand out – some serious, some funny and some “extremely funny and serious all at the same time.”
Some of the interesting events he’s dealt with include people so intoxicated they’ve defecated, which has happened on about a dozen calls he’s gone to.
“Those are always very memorable and smelly all at the same time,” Hendry said.
Dealing with incidents involving death has also had an impact. Possibly the worst night of his career came when a friend, and officer of an area department, hit a car, killing the driver, Hendry said.
He was the first officer to the scene and not only had to tell his friend that he had killed a young woman, but also had to arrest him.
“It’s one of those things where you kind of take a step back and go ‘wow,’ how did this happen and why did it happen?” he said.
But questioning why incidents occur is something Hendry said he stopped doing years ago.
“You know, you get to the point in this career where, if you keep asking yourself that, you’re going to tear yourself apart,” he said. “You just kind of have to know that, well, things did happen, and there’s nothing you can do to go back and change it.”
Being involved with those situations, however, has made Hendry more appreciative of his family and more aware of how fast something can be taken away.
As the sergeant oversees officers, the lieutenant runs the shift.
Lt. Paula Rossi’s duties include taking roll call, assigning tasks and patrolling campus.
“We are ultimately responsible for the shift,” she said. “We are also responsible for mentoring and training the sergeants coming up.”
On day shift, the work is more service-oriented and includes giving directions, transporting money and enforcing traffic. Midnight shift deals with more criminal activity, she said.
In 1976, Rossi came to Kent State to study law. But, wanting a more hands-on job, she graduated in 1980 with a degree in criminal justice.
“I liked the idea of getting in a cruiser and every day, coming in and not knowing what I was going to do that day,” she said. “The most challenging thing is never knowing what’s around the corner. You never know what you’re going to deal with.”
One minute could be spent helping someone who is lost, and the next could be responding to a traffic accident. Since almost everyone at the department has experienced the ups and downs of law enforcement, Rossi said the co-workers support each other.
“We’re a dysfunctional family, in that you have all those different personalities and things, but we all get along,” she said. “We’re here for each other.”
After graduating from Kent State, Rossi worked as a security guard at Sea World for two years before she was hired as a campus police officer in 1983.
“I became the first female sergeant at the department,” she said. “Then we had an opening, and I became the first female lieutenant here.”
As a younger officer, Rossi said the action and traffic policing interested her most.
“Now that I’ve been here for a long time, I think one of the biggest rewards I get is just for helping people,” she said.
While lieutenants supervise each shift or area within the department, the chief of police oversees the entire department’s activities.
CHIEF OF POLICE
John Peach, director of public safety and police chief, acts as the authority for public safety at the university.
“My responsibility is to give the parameters of operation for all those sections under public safety,” he said.
Peach monitors reports and crimes, discusses how to approach issues with staff and works with other departments in the university to improve services.
“There is generally no single or two days alike during the week because of what the activity might be,” he said of his 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday.
Within the department, Peach said he puts an emphasis on people and professional relationships.
“I think one of the most important responsibilities we have is to facilitate good working relationships between the campuses and the public safety and county officials,” he said. “With all the campuses, there’s a lot of turnover that takes place, so you’re constantly nurturing the relationships.”
After high school graduation, Peach said he was not ready for college and chose to go into the Air Force. While his father was Kent State’s assistant director of security in 1966, Peach said he had no desire to go into law enforcement. But an Air Force aptitude test placed him in the Air Police.
“Two days after discharge, I was hired here in the police department as a police officer, and I’ve been here since,” he said, having been hired in September of 1970 and promoted to chief of police in 1982.
Since his start at Kent State, Peach said officers have become more knowledgeable of technology and people skills, as well as becoming more respected by the public.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “People have a much higher regard for police officers.”
Contact safety reporter Kelly Byer at [email protected]