Traylor Nichols ’17, Guest Writer
Ever since the beginning of the semester, there has been a general uproar over among the students over the appointment of the new Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police, Jeffrey Brown. The rumors spread like wildfire that he was from the dry campus Christopher Newport University and was planning to bring the same ideals to Sydney. Even more rumors spread of how he came here and why he was here. Theories of President Howard demoting Chief Gee because of opposing interests, or because of unfortunate incidents in the past years came to play.
However, when I talked to President Howard, I found out that he didn’t have a hand in the matter. Dr. Jones, the Vice President for Strategy, Administration, and Board Affairs, was the head of the board that decided Chief Brown be put in his position. President Howard refused comment on personnel matters or decisions, such as the causes for Chief Gee to be demoted, merely saying that he believed Chief Brown to be competent or else he would not be in the position. When asked about rumors that he tried to get Assistant Chief Gee to quit his job, President Howard once again sternly refused comment, saying “Rumors are just that, rumors aren’t really based on anything… I think I carry myself in a professional and thoughtful way at all times and treat people with respect, and I think rumors are just kind of sad sometimes.” When asked why the position was changed from merely “Chief of Police” to “Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police,” he stated that ever since the shooting at Virginia Tech, there has been a larger emphasis on the side of Public Safety in all institutions. “And I would say that Chief Brown, as shown by his work at his previous institution, has demonstrated the skills and ability to lead in that realm, as well as just campus security or campus policing.”
I talked to Dr. Jones, who agreed with President Howard on Chief Brown’s ability to lead. Dr. Jones was the head of the Senior Committee, also composed of Chuck Ironmonger, Wes Lawson, Mike Smith, Jennifer Vitale, and Dr. Heidi Hulsizer, which was tasked to be in charge of filling the position of Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police. There were 151 applicants from all over the country, all of which were reviewed, and Chief Brown was selected as the best candidate. He is the graduate of the FBI academy, a member of the Virginia Criminal Justice Services Board, and has served for the Virginia Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. He has also created innovative programs, such as police aid programs where students work with police. Jones says that recently the need for police with more skills in public safety has risen. “We have an environment where people expect more,” he says, “so we doubt that we will have any more Virginia Tech’s.” He mentions the incident with the ATM’s this past summer and this fall as an example of how the police can react to occurrences. Jones says that the campus police are trying to modernize their structures, procedures, and efforts so that they can respond to incidents faster and alert students, such as through the new system for email and text alerts after emergencies.
This ENS, or emergency notification system, was one of the things that was put in right in place after the Virginia Tech shooting, says Tommy Shomo, the Director of Marketing and Communications. For three years, the system was never even turned on, other than for testing. However, in recent years, Hampden-Sydney has dealt with shots fired on Atkinson Avenue, the first residence hall fire in a hundred years, along with a number of other issues that nobody would have thought the school would have to deal with. “So,” Shomo says, “one of the issues that I think was under discussion here was the level of preparedness of the department to deal with the unforeseen.” Regarding Chief Brown, “He was hired, in my opinion, and based on the statements we put out, to deal with those issues of preparedness and response to emergencies or to critical situations.” Shomo commented “remember that Chief Brown is not in a policy making job, and neither was Jeff Gee… He is responsible for administering whatever policy is set.”
I decided to talk to Chief Brown, who would be carrying out these policies himself. When we got down to business, he tells me that the first twenty years of his career were in municipal law enforcement. His first job was as an officer in the City of Riverdale Park, right outside of Washington D.C. When he moved out of the area and moved to Blacksburg in 1982, he quickly progressed through the ranks and left Blacksburg in 1990 as a Lieutenant. He served as the Chief of Police in the City of Covington and then as the Chief of Police for Prince George County before serving at CNU for 13 years.
I asked Chief Brown directly about several concerns that many of us share. When asked if he was planning of changing anything, he reminded me that he was not a policy maker, and was just going to be carrying out Hampden Sydney’s previously set policies. When I asked him if he was planning on enforcing any policies more than in the past, he said “I’ve found our officers to be extremely competent and capable, and at this point I have told them to continue policing as they have. At this point there has been no stricter enforcement or less enforcement.” When I suggested the idea that he would come in and start changing things, he seemed to laugh at the idea, and talked to me about his ninety day evaluation program that he is doing where he is meeting with all of the staff, student leaders and other law enforcement and public safety officials in the area to see what is going good or bad before making decisions. And when I brought up the possible repression or banning of alcohol Chief Brown, again, laughed at the idea. He said “I’ve heard a lot of those rumors and speculations, that there’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s from CNU, and that was a dry campus.” He went on to explain “What they had was no alcohol in residence halls, but there was alcohol at tailgating events, and there was alcohol at performing art events…so I don’t know where this ‘CNU is a dry campus’ comes from, because it’s not.” Chief Brown also says that he has no intentions of making Sydney a dry campus because it is not the policy of the college. “Alcohol is part of a developmental process that students go through, it’s experiential, it’s not something that a police chief comes in and says ‘I’m doing away with it,’” Brown says. When asked about the rumors of police officers going into fraternity houses and handing out tickets for underage drinking, Brown says that this is not happening, and encourages anybody who knows about that happening to let him know.
Having known Chief Brown for the past 14 years through conferences, Assistant Chief Gee says that Chief Brown is a great guy, and that he has all the respect in the world for him. “If this thing had to happen, I can’t think of any one I’d rather have in this position than Jeff Brown” he says. Commenting on the changes under Chief Brown, Gee says that there will be no changes in campus lifestyle or living. However, campus police will be better equipped and funded than ever before under his supervision. And as far as Chief Brown’s policing style, Gee doesn’t think there will be much of a difference. He sees more structure in the police force in the future, but sees his and Brown’s philosophies as very similar. As far as Assistant Chief Gee’s role, he said that it hasn’t really changed much, despite the change in title. “I just have somebody to answer to” he says to me, adding on jokingly that it could be a good thing. Jeff Gee has served for eighteen years, as of this November, on the police force at Hampden-Sydney, of which fourteen of those have been as police chief. An exemplary officer, Gee says that he has never received less than an “excellent” on a performance evaluation. Both President Howard and Dr. Jones thank him for staying. Quoting President Howard, “I have a deep and abiding respect for Jeff Gee, and I thank him for his continued service before this date and going forward. I thank him for that, and hold him in high esteem.”
To the students of Hampden-Sydney, Gee had these words: “Whatever has happened has happened, and we can’t go back. I’m still committed to making HSC and keeping HSC safe and the fine place that it is. I’m still here, and with the backing of Jeff Brown and with us working together, there is no way that we can’t accomplish some great things. I appreciate everyone’s support through the years and I hope it will continue. Chief Brown is the man now and he needs everyone’s support as well, and he most certainly has mine.”