ACC welcomes new campus officers

News Photo by Julie Riddle Alpena Community College President Don MacMaster, left, welcomes new ACC patrol officers Linnessa Mellberg and Chet Spencer along with Vice President of Instruction Deb Bayer. Officer Ethan Webster was unavailable for the photo.

ALPENA — Alpena Community College has established a new working relationship with the Alpena City Police Department.

Beginning with the second semester of classes, which kicks off next Monday, a rotation of three patrol officers will provide a police presence on campus, a change the college hopes will bring valuable expertise, increased safety, and enriching connections to its students and staff.

In October, the ACC Board of Trustees approved a contract with the City of Alpena and APD to provide enhanced law enforcement coverage for the Alpena campus. Three officers who are currently part of the Alpena force have been assigned to work in a rotation and be on campus 20 hours a week.

According to Police Chief Joel Jett, ACC and the APD have been in conversation about the possibility for a year. The college will fund 50 percent of the cost of APD hiring an additional patrol officer. The department is in the hiring process now. The additional officer will be added to the regular city patrol, freeing the three new ACC-assigned officers to spend time on campus.

According to college President Don MacMaster, ACC has been one of the last remaining college campuses in the state without a dedicated police presence.

“This is a first for us in 60-some-odd years,” he said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

The long-term plan is to assign one or two officers to a permanent position at the school, according to Jett. To get the program underway, APD asked current officers if any of them would be interested in working on the campus for the spring semester. Three patrol officers volunteered and are in the process of undergoing training for school-specific issues.

Patrol Officer Ethan Webster was interested in the ACC position because it offered a new way to serve Alpena.

“I like taking on different tasks and investing in my community,” Webster said.

Chet Spencer worked as the Alpena High School liaison officer for 13 years, having started the program in 1998. Spencer considers it important to establish connections with younger generations.

“I think that’s where we can make a difference, with younger people,” Spencer said. “We can work with them, offer them guidance.”

Linnessa Mellberg is a product of the criminal justice program at ACC. She is pleased to be on campus in a professional capacity, although she doesn’t anticipate spending a lot of time in her office, “more in the building and around.”

“We’ll try to get more involved, try to communicate more with them and make it look like we’re more approachable than if we’re out on the street,” Mellberg said.

Deb Bayer, vice president of instruction at ACC, has been heavily involved in establishing the new police presence on campus. Mayer anticipates that the officers will be a valuable addition because of the expertise and experience they can offer. She hopes they will be able to suggest improvements and address safety issues related to campus buildings and procedures.

MacMaster said he is pleased to be able to offer ACC students and staff the additional security of trained safety professionals on campus.

“As you look around the campus, you’ll see numerous doors open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The community likes that. But sometimes that’s more vulnerable than you want to be,” MacMaster said.

Recent stories of on-campus shootings around the country certainly encourage schools to take safety measures seriously. MacMaster indicated that he considers it his job to be concerned about the safety of his students and staff.

“A little proactive measure is not a bad thing,” MacMaster said.

MacMaster feels, though, that the greatest assets of the new police presence will be the relationships students will build with the law enforcement community.

“We want them to see that, oh yes, these are real people,” MacMaster said.

A new security office will be established on campus, located in a central hallway where students can easily find and interact with the officers.

The officers plan to be on-campus in the afternoons, but their actual hours may fluctuate so they can be present at activities, meetings, and campus events.

“They won’t just be standing in the door watching everyone. They’ll be a part of our community,” MacMaster said.

Spencer anticipates the new officers’ greatest impact will be establishing a rapport with the younger generation, being approachable, and establishing relationships.

“Maybe getting rid of the stigma that they need to be afraid of police officers,” Webster added.

“They don’t have to have an issue to come to our office and talk to us. It’s an approachability thing,” Spencer said.

Bayer sees the new officers as a way the school can help students with issues that come between them and a strong academic life. The police program will provide a place where students can turn when they don’t know how to find help with a problem.

“People will come to us and say hey, my friend is involved in domestic violence, what should I tell them?” Bayer said. “The officers will be available to answer questions and will be equipped to refer students to outside agencies when needed.”

Spencer reflects the general enthusiasm on campus for the new program and its potential impact on the students and staff at ACC.

“We’re here for them,” Spencer said. “When you can make a difference in someone’s life and help them, I think that’s very gratifying.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com.