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story.lead_photo.caption Jeff Crow, the director of Safety and Emergency Management at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, stands in front of the campus police department in the middle of the Evans Student Center. - Photo by Sam Pierce

— Ouachita Baptist University is putting its focus on safety for its faculty, staff and students by installing its first police department on campus.

“I think for our staff, it is a welcome change,” said Jeff Crow, director of Safety and Emergency Management at OBU. “I think a lot of our university family recognizes the dangerous world, and to be prepared and take precautions is a good thing.

“We are trying to do that in a way that is consistent with the vision and the values of this university. We really provide an exceptional service to the students, faculty and the staff.

“The consensus is there is a good deal of support and appreciation of the direction the university is wanting to go,” he said.

“We’re grateful for a campus, community and region that prize safety,” OBU President Ben Sells said in a statement. “This new office demonstrates our commitment to be more intentional in preparing our students, faculty and staff for their personal safety and to be an even better partner with public-safety officials in the area.”

Crow said the administration of the university recognized that the safety and security of the students is a high priority.

“They decided a couple of years ago that they were going to move forward with creating a police department that would be housed here at the university,” Crow said.

The main office is in the middle of the Evans Student Center on campus. Crow said that when he arrived in February, the safety office already comprised unarmed security officers.

The new department will have a combination of armed police officers and unarmed security officers.

“We began the transition of making those officers university employees,” Crow said. “We also went through the process of starting a police department by putting forth a policy, an organizational chart and budget.”

Crow said OBU is a very safe campus and a safe community. He said it can only remain that way if staff members are vigilant.

“To have that role, it is very gratifying work,” Crow said. “Even though it is a great opportunity, there are a lot of challenges that come along with it.”

Crow said the biggest challenge when creating a law enforcement agency is that there are a lot of unknowns.

“The challenge is recognizing those and just kind of mobilizing your resources, your time and energy to overcome those,” Crow said. “That’s probably the biggest challenge, but it is also a great opportunity.

“You have the opportunity to, hopefully on the ground-floor level, fundamentally do things that will set the department up for success.”

Crow said the new department has around 13 full-time and part-time employees who work for the offices of Safety and Emergency Management. Of those, Crow said, they have two full-time and several part-time officers who help provide coverage.

OBU has more than 1,500 enrolled, and the campus is a little over 200 acres, with 51 buildings.

“We are primarily a residential campus,” Crow said. “I believe over 98 percent of our students live on campus. It is a really strong sense of community here.

“So the relationships between the staff and the officers, but especially students and the officers, are really important. That is something we will continue to try — to cultivate great relationships and maintain those.”

Crow said the reason it took so long for the school to create its own department is legal issues.

“Around 2013, they introduced and passed legislation that would enable private universities to create their own police departments,” Crow said. “Previous to that, there wasn’t a lawful basis to create a police department or to even have one.

“The opportunity to be able to do it has not been there that long. Many of your private institutions are going this way, nationwide.”

Crow is the former director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and he served 15 years with the Arkansas State Police. In a press release from OBU, Wesley Kluck, vice president for Student Development, said Crow “has a wealth of knowledge and experience in law enforcement, administration, leadership and education.”

“I have personally known him for several years and look forward to having him as part of the Student Development and Ouachita team,” Kluck said.

For more information, visit www.obu.edu.

Crow said he made the decision to leave state government in 2017, but he knew he wanted to be involved in a law enforcement capacity in some way, “to have the opportunity to work within the profession.”

“I had a longing to work in law enforcement again,” he said. “When this opportunity came along, it seemed like a logical step to get back into that line of work.”

Crow said he has three goals for the department.

“No. 1, I want to hire a high-character, high-quality staff,” he said. “I want to identify individuals who have a heart for service and have a high degree of integrity and a desire to serve students and work in this setting.”

Crow said his second goal is to create a culture of safety and bring an awareness that is kind of pervasive to the institution.

“Whether it is crime prevention or an awareness of being vigilant and aware of your surroundings,” Crow said, “we really want to engage in a positive way.”

He said his third goal is to demonstrate to the students what service is all about.

“To model that servant leadership and the virtues that it is associated with — law enforcement gives us an excellent platform to do that,” Crow said.

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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