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Campus cops joining forces with other law agencies
Gainesville State College police seek mutual aid pacts
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Gainesville State College Officer Ken Bennett jump starts a car for a stranded student on campus. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Gainesville State College's police chief Richard Goodson talks about forming "mutual aid" agreements.

At the state Board of Regents’ request, Gainesville State College’s police department is working to acquire "mutual aid" agreements with surrounding police agencies.

The point is to formalize law enforcement response to emergencies on and off the campus, which sits off Mundy Mill Road near Interstate 985.

"It just kind of ties up the loose ends," said the college’s police chief, Richard Goodson.

"If we had a mass casualty type of emergency on campus or, God forbid, a Virginia Tech-type of incident, this would allow us to get other people to come without there being any conflict of jurisdiction."

Earlier this month, Oakwood City Council approved the agreement with the college.

Goodson said he is seeking the same sort of nod from Gainesville City Council and Hall County Board of Commissioners. Gainesville sits to the north of the campus and the school sits in unincorporated Hall, which is patrolled by the sheriff’s office.

"Oakwood has no jurisdiction on our campus, because we are not in the city limits of Oakwood," Goodson said.

"But they are the closest law enforcement agency to us, so it only makes sense that we help them and they help us in case of a major emergency."

Gainesville State had operated as a public safety department until after Goodson’s arrival on campus in early 2008. The college now has a certified police department with sworn officers, patrol cars and law enforcement equipment.

"Right now, we can go off campus, up to 500 yards from our property, if we wanted to," Goodson said. "We could enforce traffic on Mundy Mill Road in front of campus, which we have no desire to do right now."

But the agreement "could allow us to help Oakwood if they had an emergency, such as an officer down. ... If we had an officer in the area, he could go over there without any potential legal entanglements."

Aside from the agreement, the city would be covered in incidents that began on campus and moved to another jurisdiction.

"The reason for the 500-yard buffer is very much that," Goodson said. "If you had somebody cross the street that was hurting somebody, then you’d have the authority to go over there and handle it."

The intent of the agreement is not for law enforcement agencies to back each other up on routine matters.

"But if the (Oakwood) officer is doing a search warrant and he gets shot, then we might respond as the closest ones for his aid or to apprehend whomever did it," Goodson said.

As far as command goes, that falls to the agency in the jurisdiction where the incident occurs — that is, unless another agency enters the scene that is more qualified to deal with the emergency.

"For example, we have a train wreck right off campus," Goodson said. "We might have to initially start moving people out, getting them away. But as soon as the fire department comes on the scene with hazardous materials capability, then we would assist them."

Essentially, "we all understand our role," he added.

Randall Moon, Oakwood’s longtime police chief, lauds the agreement.

"More than legal, it gives direction," he said. "A good part in it is if my guys go over there to help, they need to know that they fall under (Goodson’s) command until they’re relieved.

"It’s so they don’t go over there and say, ‘I don’t work for you. I work for Oakwood and I can do what I want to,’" Moon said. "No, they have to realize that when (Goodson) requests mutual aid and I agree to send them, they fall under his command."

And for Gainesville State, one of the fastest-growing colleges in the state, an emergency would constitute something more than momentary issues, such as parking crisis, traffic congestion or classroom fight.

"It would have to be something that would overwhelm (Goodson’s) agency," Moon said.

And like Gainesville State, sometimes Oakwood’s pursuits sometimes carry them on campus.

"We had a foot chase over there about a month ago that started in Walmart, and then we’ve had a few traffic stops where people have chosen to pull inside the campus," Moon said.

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