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November 29, 2004
BY Eric Rangus
On Nov. 6, Cheryl Elliott received the George B. Sunderland Practitioner of the Year–Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for Crime Prevention Practitioners at its 25th annual symposium, held this year in Scottsdale, Ariz.
According to its description, the award recognizes significant contributions made by outstanding crime prevention practitioners whose dedication and enthusiasm for crime prevention has positively impacted the quality of life for others.
“Lifetime?” said Elliott, a lieutenant with the Emory Police Department (EPD), picking out one of the words on her award. “This is not the end of my life, is it? Have I gotten so old? That’s a little scary.”
Elliott, who has worked at Emory for 15 years, was promoted to lieutenant in 1996 and assigned to EPD’s crime prevention unit, a six-member team she now heads. As such, Elliott is EPD’s point person not only for helping the Emory community detect, deter, delay and deny crime (as she says), but also in fostering a strong relationship between EPD and Emory’s faculty, staff and students.
“I think what the award says is,” Elliott continued, turning serious, “that it’s important to be a professional and respect what you do. I think being a police officer is a good calling for anyone. There are very few people who understand how important it is to be flexible enough to be a caring and compassionate person, but then have to turn around and make an enforcement decision in a life-or-death situation. It’s a good feeling to be a part of that group.”
“The award says ‘lifetime achievement,’ but it really should say ‘lifetime achievement up to now,’” said EPD Chief Craig Watson. “Cheryl has a long way to go in her career. We’re like a family here, and we really would be lost without her.”
While she is perhaps EPD’s most visible officer, Elliott frequently wears civilian clothes, even when she staffs events such as the recent freshman semi-formal. She is able to mix authority with approachability.
“My responsibility is to be a community contact,” she said, adding that for formal occasions, such as Commencement, she does wear her uniform. “That means we try to get involved with the activities that are going on. It’s not about staffing as much as it is about participating.”
Nowhere is Elliott’s community policing concept more apparent than through the Emory Watch program. Elliott created Emory Watch, the umbrella under which all EPD’s crime prevention programs fall, in 1996. Based on neighborhood watch programs that are popular across the country, Emory Watch provides information on creating a safe workplace, dealing with workplace violence, domestic violence or sexual assault, underage drinking, and a host of other issues.
Three years ago, Elliott took community relations even further when “public information officer” was added to her title. She not only works with reporters (often students) who write about crime on campus, but also serves as a resource for the Emory community—for victims of crime and anyone else who deals with EPD.
Elliott’s work extends beyond campus as well. She has several stories about Emory employees, faculty and even alumni who have contacted her with problems outside of work—such as being stalked, which has happened on more than one occasion. She isn’t able to do anything personally, but she can point them in the right direction by providing law enforcement contacts.
“I can be a resource who can give people the information they need to solve a problem,” Elliott said. That knowledge comes from 24 years’ experience as a university law enforcement officer. Elliott first came to Emory in 1988, then left in 1990 after going back to school with ideas of starting a teaching career. In fall 1991, she returned after she realized the University provided all the students she could want.
Elliott began her law enforcement career in 1975 as an officer with the Georgia State University (GSU) police department. She was GSU’s first female to work overnights (her shift was 11 p.m.–7 a.m.), and she had her share of issues to deal with, far beyond keeping the streets safe on the downtown Atlanta campus.
Two male officers transferred off the shift rather than serve with a woman. She was not allowed to go out by herself. Even after being promoted to supervisor, a backup officer often would be assigned to Elliott when she responded to calls, including those as routine as a fire alarm. For her first year-and-a-half on the job, she didn’t tell her father she was a police officer. Elliott told him she was a dispatcher and when she visited him, she hid her weapon in the trunk of her car.
“Eventually I learned that I had a gift for balance,” Elliott said, discussing how she settled on a career in law enforcement. “I’m able to accept the situation, be a professional, demand respect and give respect in return.”
Respect is something Elliott doesn’t lack at Emory. For instance, in 1995 she was named EPD Officer of the Year. She also has received awards from the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services for her diversity work, and in 2002 she was named an Unsung Heroine by the Center for Women. Not that Elliott is all that unsung. The student newspaper, The Emory Wheel, has named her one of the 10 best people to know on campus each of the last three years.
“I really don’t know if I can say this, but if the School of Medicine were to perfect cloning, I would love to have six Cheryls,” Watson quipped.
While Elliott’s recent trip to Arizona centered on accepting another award, much more was involved. She and Sgt. Rick Allen were there for a week, participating not only in the conference but also teaching a two-day course on crime prevention. Following the classwork, the pair administered a 200-question test. Every one of their 23 students passed and all were certified as crime prevention specialists.
A former president of the Georgia Crime Prevention Association and its state training director since 2002, Elliott has taught crime prevention courses throughout Georgia. In conjunction with the Atlanta Police Department, Elliott taught the first 80-hour training module for crime prevention ever held in the state.
“Emory demands all its officers to be the best and the most professional we can be,” Elliott said. “We are a model for some of the other agencies, in terms of their expecting their officers to react to situations and how they interact with the public. We try to set that bar high. We are respected in metro Atlanta and throughout the state; we’re one of the best-trained law enforcement agencies, and people don’t put ‘college campus’ behind it.”