Feb. 8, 1999
Volume 51, No. 19
Watson embraces 'community policing' by Emory cops
There is something oddly different about an Emory Police Department officer. To someone outside the University community, EPD cops look the same as any other cop: uniform, patrol car, badge, gun, radio, handcuffs. But for those of us who see them every day, they somehow are more familiar, more approachable.
And that's just the way Craig Watson likes it. Having logged 20 years on duty in the EPD, the last three-and-a-half as its chief, Watson has watched the department evolve over the years. The latest psychological profile of an Emory peace officer is one Watson welcomes and even pursues.
"One of the things we tell people when we're interviewing officer applicants is that we really expect more from an officer in our department than I think other law enforcement agencies do," Watson said. "Quite often, they expect a police officer to be a police officer. We expect you to be a police officer, a babysitter, a security officer, an auto mechanic, a counselor--you have to wear eight or nine different hats and be able to flop them on and off at the turn of a corner."
This varied job description of Emory's boys (and girls) in blue stems from Watson's perception of them as service employees. Not only are EPD officers expected to perform their law enforcement duties, but they also must understand that their uniform carries with it the aura of an authority figure, someone to turn to in time of need, and Emory cops should be prepared to answer that call, whether it be to chase down an armed criminal or jimmy a car door for someone who's locked the keys inside.
It's all part of making police officers more central to the community of which they are a part. Watson said that a uniformed officer can be sitting in his patrol car at a corner on campus, and people will walk by oblivious to him; put that same officer on bicycle, he continued, and people will stop and say good morning. "It has nothing to do with, 'I've got a problem--come help me,'" Watson said. "They'll just stop and talk. That's the kind of rapport we want to build.
"I would much rather have the officers on duty spending their time getting out, walking through buildings, saying hi to people, checking on things like that, than making traffic stops of people with expired license tags," he said. "I mean, yeah, you're doing a service and performing your job either way, but which one's really doing more for the community?"
Emory police should do these things, Watson pointed out, because Emory police can do these things. EPD is not faced with the same kind of budget and resource restraints that hamstring many municipal police agencies; some city and county cops have so many calls to answer that they are reprimanded for taking too long for any one. But campus law enforcement is more like "community policing," and that calls for officers to rise above and beyond the traditional no-nonsense, traffic stops and arrests model of law enforcement.
Of course, that's not to say EPD officers are never called upon to chase down bad guys. Watson himself has been "in more fights than I care to remember" and once tackled a suspect who tried to shoot him with his police radio. Someone reported a suspicious man sitting in a parked car, and when Watson and another officer approached the man, he bolted, first in the car and then on foot.
"It's the old story about cops, that cops are like dogs: if something runs, you chase it," Watson said. "So I caught up to him and tackled him, and when I did my radio went flying up in the air and landed in front of him. He reaches out his hand and grabs it, and I can see him turning it toward me-he thought it was my gun, and he was trying to find the trigger to shoot me."
Still, even though physical altercations make up more of police work than Watson would prefer, most of any law enforcement officer's time is spent performing less adrenalized tasks: driving around on patrol, doing paperwork, going to court. "People say being a police officer is 90 percent boredom and 10 percent sheer terror," he laughed. "Some people say those incidents don't bother them, and that's a crock. When that guy tried to shoot me with my radio, that scared the living crap out of me--not when it's happening, because you don't have time to think about it. But after it's all over with, it's like, 'Good God, why am I in this job?'"
Good question. Originally a journalism major, Watson began taking law enforcement classes at DeKalb College in the '70s. He liked it and ended up getting his bachelor's in criminal justice from Valdosta State College in 1978 and his master's in the same field from Georgia State University a decade later. But he's been at Emory since his rookie year after college, and he doesn't plan on leaving anytime soon.
"Stress from being a police officer usually has very little to do with the 'danger factor'; most stress comes from the internal workings of the department, by how the officers perceive they're being treated and by the general workings of their environment," Watson said. "The more I've got to know people who worked in other agencies and listened to them talk, the more I realized campus law enforcement was a much better deal."