Emory Report
June 23, 2008
Volume 60, Number 33



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June 23, 2008
An arresting personality

By Carol Clark

“You can be friendly while arresting someone — I’ve done it,” says Craig Watson, Emory’s chief of police. “Once, the wife of somebody I arrested wrote me a thank-you note. She said she appreciated the way that I had treated her husband when I took him into custody.”

Watson has the laid-back, chatty manner of Tim Allen from the TV sitcom “Home Improvement.” You could easily imagine him hanging over a fence, catching up with his neighbors. As a matter of fact, he added a gate to the back fence of his family home near Emory, so children and dogs could pass freely between the two yards. He brings the same warmth and openness to the campus every day.

“You don’t have to be stone-faced and mean to do this job,” Watson says, smiling.

But don’t be fooled by the easy-going demeanor: Members of the Emory Police Department are just as prepared to take on crime and other emergencies as they are to help you recharge your car battery.

“Some folks have the old conception that the campus police are more like night watchmen, as opposed to what the department really is: a full-service law enforcement agency,” Watson says. “Emory is a safe campus, but it’s not surrounded by 20-foot walls. We deal with the same issues any other police department does — we just don’t have to deal with major crime on a daily basis. Violent crime is rare, so we can focus more on crime prevention and education.”

The 54 staff members of the police department include dispatchers and 43 uniformed officers who patrol the Emory and Oxford campuses. The department is also responsible for fire safety, and includes a unit of 40 student volunteers who serve as medics for Emory Emergency Medical Services. Emory police and officers from the DeKalb Police Department back each other up throughout the Clifton corridor, Watson says. “One of the things we’ve always been proud of is our great relationship with the DeKalb police. Turf battles have never existed here.”

June 26 will mark the 30th anniversary at Emory for Watson, who joined the police department two weeks after receiving a degree in criminal justice from Valdosta State University. “When I first started working at Emory, this was a small college that had a hospital,” Watson says. “Today, it’s a major university with a health care system.”

His wife, Cheryl, graduated from Emory’s nursing school, and now works at Emory University Hospital. The couple raised their two sons in the same Atlanta neighborhood where Watson grew up.

He recalls that during his first years at Emory, the only dining option was a small cafeteria in Cox Hall. “I would quite often be the only officer on the evening shift,” Watson says. “If I received an emergency call, I would leave my food on the table and run out the door. The staff working on the food line would see me leave and keep my dinner warm until I made it back.”

He maintains close relationships with many members of the Emory community, despite the growth of the University. “It’s like a family,” he says. “You go out of your way to help somebody, however you can.”

Watson was promoted to sergeant, then lieutenant and captain, before becoming chief in 1995. Over the years, he’s been an investigator and a liaison for President Jimmy Carter’s Secret Service detail. He’s collected a lot of stories, but his favorites don’t involve any famous people, weapons or car chases.

Here’s one: During a Commencement day, a family noticed that Watson always seemed to pop up with a helpful word and a smile, no matter where they went. Finally, the graduate’s mother asked, “Are you the only police officer at Emory?” She insisted on including Watson in one of the family snapshots. They later sent him a copy of the photo, which is framed on his office wall, along with a note of appreciation, signed: “Leonard’s mom, Law School ’98.”

“I was so tickled by that,” Watson says.