By George Mauzy
Chief of Police Andrew Powers proved in his first meeting with Student Senate that he can think on his feet -- a requirement for any good law enforcement officer. When the Miami University graduate shared with the student senators last quarter that he worked in his alma mater's police department for more than 16 years before coming to Ohio University, he was heartily booed. However, he quickly diffused the jeers by noting that his brother, David, is an Ohio University graduate, prompting equally loud applause. The chief, who hopes to make many more good decisions under pressure, sat down with Outlook after almost three months on the job to share his hopes and perspective.
What made you interested in being chief?
Ohio University is very similar to Miami University, where I had worked since 1990. It was a great opportunity for me to apply my knowledge and skills to a new position and chart the future course of the department. My background is in college law enforcement and I love working in a college environment; however, I believe it requires a higher degree of excellence than many other jurisdictions because students are taught to question everything, including the police department. It makes good communication essential and provides unique challenges.
How is your staff comprised and how experienced is it?
Currently, we have 22 sworn officers including me, four communication officers and two clerical staff members. Our budget is $2.5 million. One of the major benefits is the staff's level of experience. Even our newest officers had more than 10 years of law enforcement experience when they were hired. The fact that the staff has a considerable knowledge base and institutional history has made my transition easier.
Has your staff impressed you?
Yes. Everyone I talk to on campus seems to make positive comments about the staff and I know they work hard to provide quality service to the community. They are deeply engaged in supporting the university's mission and are clearly committed to the people we serve.
What are some of the police services you offer?
We provide all the traditional services people expect from the police such as patrol, investigations, and emergency response. In additiion, we also provide less typical services. We are involved in the Student Review and Consultation Committee and also work closely with Human Resources to support the well-being of our students, faculty and staff.
How does Ohio University compare to other state universities in regard to crime?
We compare favorably to most Ohio universities our size, probably because we are farther from a major metropolitan area than the other schools and don't get as much spillover crime. One of the challenges of our more rural setting, however, is the lack of access to rapid, large-scale assistance from other law enforcement agencies if a major incident occurred.
What were your perceptions of OU before arriving? Any discoveries?
I perceived it as more liberal and rural than Miami, but very similar. I thought of it as a quality institution that is one of the "public Ivy League schools." Most of these perceptions have been confirmed. Overall, I have found the people here to be down to earth and sincere, and the campus community has been engaging and wonderful to work in.
Do you already have improvements in mind for the department?
I don't have any wholesale changes planned. People seemed to think well of the department before I came, so I don't want to fix things that aren't broken. We are currently improving the department's internal processes and bringing more definition to the supervisor roles. We want to increase our transparency and accountability, recruit a more diverse staff -- especially women and minorities -- and improve our services, communication and outreach to those groups. I also want to shore up our investigative services by soon appointing a supervisor to better coordinate our investigation efforts. We already have a detective on all three shifts, so now we will work on being more efficient in our investigations. I also want to leverage grant funding by enhancing our partnerships at the local, state and federal levels.
Why did you enter law enforcement and why do you enjoy it as a career?
I know this sounds corny, but I wanted to help people and kind of fell into it. I was a pre-med major originally, but eventually found out that wasn't what I wanted to do. I later became an emergency medical technician, a part-time police dispatcher and then a full-time officer while at Miami. I really enjoy working with people, and I like the unpredictability. A good day is to know you made a difference. That is rewarding.
Do the dangers associated with law enforcement ever concern you?
Not really, because I have been trained for those situations. The dangers have never deterred me. You rely on your training during dangerous situations.
What is a common myth about law enforcement officers that you want to dispel?
We are often victims of stereotypes. It bothers me that some people say law enforcement officers are not concerned about people and neglect the human side of our job. That's not true with most law enforcement officers. What I like the most about working on a college campus is working with young people who are still at a point in their lives where they can be positively influenced. We don't deal with a lot of career criminals, which means we can really make a difference in the lives of many of the people we serve.
Tell us about your English roots.
I was born in Birmingham, England, and grew up in Derbyshire, England. I moved to the U.S. with my parents at the age of 9. My parents are retired and live in Avon Lake, Ohio, not too far from my brother, David, who graduated with an English degree from Ohio University. I last traveled to England in 1995, but will travel there this summer for a family reunion.
What are your hobbies?
I play the bagpipes. I always liked hearing them while growing up in England, so I eventually took lessons and played in the Miami Pipe Band as a student. I am also a private pilot with almost 400 hours of flight time. I became interested in flying because my house in England was near an old World War II airport. I enjoyed watching the planes land near my house.
What do you like most about Athens?
I like the hills, natural resources, forests, hiking and other outdoor recreation. I also like the town itself. Athens is very charming and has a lot of character. I lkie the hills on campus and the fact that the roads are not on a grid system.