Silver Shield: Mason’s Full-Service Police Department Marks 25 Years

Posted: January 17, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Police at statue
For George Mason’s Police Department, safety on the campuses is the number one priority.

By Tara Laskowski

On any given night on Mason’s three busy campuses, the phone for the university escort service might ring. The call could be from a student who studied too late in the library or a staff member who worked past dark on a new project, and their cars are parked in a far corner of a distant lot. The escort service provided by University Police ensures that no matter what time of day or night it is, no one ever has to walk alone if they feel unsafe.

Safety is the number one priority for the George Mason University Police Department, which gets about 200 to 250 calls per year for the escort service. The escorts are only one of the services provided by the full-service department, which includes an investigations unit, specially trained detectives and a patrol division. The department has been serving the community for 25 years and will celebrate this milestone on Friday.

Chief of Police Michael Lynch
Chief Michael Lynch

“I think we’ve got one of the premier police departments in the nation,” says Chief Michael Lynch, and the statistics back him up. Out of approximately 18,000 police departments in the nation-including large city, county and other university police departments-Mason’s force is one of 730 (and one of only 35 university departments) that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. Only two other university departments in Virginia share this honor: the University of Richmond and Virginia Tech.

The department also sets an example statewide. The Virginia Crime Commission recently came out with the report “Best Practices in Campus Law Enforcement,” in which they recommended about two dozen practices for campus police. University Police already has instituted nearly all those practices.

Safety on Campus

Between two and six officers patrol each of Mason’s campuses by car, by bicycle or on foot on any given day. The department is also responsible for the security of all buildings on campus.

According to the department’s annual security report, alcohol and drug-related offenses were the most reported incidents on campus, followed by theft of personal property and vehicles. Mason has had very little violent crime – in the six years that Lynch has been chief, only two armed robberies have occurred. There has never been a homicide on a Mason campus.

Throughout its history, the department has grown not only in personnel, but also in safety and crime prevention programs. Perhaps most notable is the rape aggression defense (RAD) classes for women, a free service offered at least once a semester depending on demand. The class teaches university-affiliated women how to defend themselves against attackers and works to educate and empower approximately 100 women each year.

RAD Class
One of the Police Department’s public service activities is the rape aggression defense (RAD) class, which is offered for free each semester.
Creative Services photos

Another program that helps keep Mason safe is the intricate call box system installed around the Fairfax Campus in the early 1980s.

“Before everyone had a personal telephone on them, call boxes used to be a security necessity,” says Lynch, who acknowledges that now the boxes serve a different purpose for campus safety. “Now they are a security convenience, but they are not what we rely on as emergency police notification.”

To ensure that the 20-year-old call boxes still work, the department participates once a semester in University Life’s Nightwalk program. During this event, students, police officers and members of Physical Plant divide the campus into sections and patrol the areas looking for disabled call boxes, poorly lit areas and other safety concerns.

The Challenges and Rewards of Being a Campus Cop

Lynch believes a unique aspect of working for a university police department is the population served. “Not only do we have some 120 countries represented here, but we have lots of highly educated people from all over the world. We’ve also got young adults away from home for the first time at the most exciting time of their life.”

The police department’s mission coincides with the university’s mission: “We hope to help students get through the university, succeed, get a diploma and go out and rule the world,” Lynch says.

Fulfilling that mission, however, is not without its challenges. The department’s biggest challenge seems to be overcoming the stereotype of campus security – the fat guy with the key chain knocking on doors. Few people realize that the department is just like any city department, says Lynch. “We still get asked, ‘Are you a real police department?’ They don’t see us as an independent, full-service department.”

Another challenge, according to Lynch, is one not limited to just campus police departments, but to all officers. Living in a post-9/11 world has changed the way officers do their jobs. Faced with high security measures, terrorist threats and general fear, police officers have to be extra careful to deal with such sensitive issues.

“We have a lot to lose sleep over here at the university. There is so much stuff that could happen,” says Lynch. “We’ve been very fortunate here at Mason. We’re either very, very good or very, very lucky. So far, we’re doing very well here – the whole system is helping to foresee problems and address them before they hurt anybody.”

Write to at