By Paul A. Anthony, Editor in Chief
Aaron Taylor’s eyes are always moving, darting this way and that.
He passes other motorists, and his eyes begin their constant search. Seatbelts. Stickers. License plates. Headlights. Windows. It’s a habit now-he doesn’t even think about it.
“In police work, it’s a disease,” Taylor says as he drives his white patrol cruiser with “University Police” emblazoned on each side, a kind of talisman to ward evil from the ACU campus. “You look for violations mostly. It’s fun though; it’s a blast. It’s really rewarding.”
Taylor is one of four officers who regularly patrol the university, splitting the day among themselves in an effort to keep criminals away, to make sure students are safe and to help out students in a pinch.
“Here it’s a little more community-policing intensive,” Taylor said. “You have more time to work on relationships if something does go on.”
Taylor makes that a goal in his job, one he began in April, when he came back to Abilene after working for the Arlington Police Department. Taylor graduated from ACU in December 2000.
He tries to avoid giving tickets, preferring instead to talk with the vehicles’ owners if they’re around. Taylor said it just makes sense-why make enemies now when you might be able to use the friends later?
“Every now and then you run into some disgruntled people,” he said. “But I just have to realize it’s not like I’m giving away lollipops. When you give a citation, people aren’t happy about it; I understand that.”
Taylor works the 3-11:30 p.m. shift, handling the after-class rush and the beginning of the ever-threatening night, where automobiles parked across Campus Court and in the parking lot for Smith and Adams halls are easy victims for potential burglary and theft.
He comes on after Dave Dalbert, who contrasts Taylor’s seven-month stint on the force with his 19 years of experience. Dalbert works the morning shift, beginning at 7 a.m.
The midnight shift begins at 11 p.m., manned by either H.E. Jenkins or Craig Johnson, and ends at 7:30 a.m.
Each shift begins the same way-the officer checks to make sure the previous shift’s business is finished and to see if any situations should be noted.
After that come the rounds.
“We make lots of rounds,” Taylor said. “We patrol non-stop; it’s the only way you see things.”
Far from merely driving around, Taylor takes with him a checklist of each building on or near campus-from the Allen Farm to Zona Luce. He stops, checks the outside, sometimes walks inside, talks to an office worker or two. And he doesn’t do it the same way twice in a row,
“I change up the way I go home,” Taylor said, laughing, admitting he doesn’t have any reason to be that paranoid. But the principle is the same: switch up the routine, and no one knows exactly when and where you’ll show up.
Taylor was “born in a policeman’s uniform.” His father and grandfather were both officers, and he takes pride in his job, quietly paying attention to the little things as he patrols down Ambler Avenue on his way back from the gerontology clinic.
“One of the things they teach you at the academy,” Taylor says as he pulls up to a traffic light, “is to never stop even with another car-you want to see them” and make sure they can’t see you.
University police officers don’t have to worry so much about pulling alongside someone carrying a grudge and a gun. Instead, it’s usually a student with a dead battery or a locked car.
And that’s just fine with Taylor, with Dalbert and with their boss-Police Chief Jimmy Ellison.
Ellison has begun shifting the department away from being known as the “ticket police” and focusing more on student service, and Dalbert says that has made the department the best it’s been in years.
“I just do my job,” he said. “We do some ticketing, but sometimes you don’t have time to write tickets. We’re here to take care of the students.”
Taylor said his favorite part of the job is interacting with students, helping them out as they go about their day. And sometimes the perks are nice, too.
“I unlocked a student’s car; the next day I got a plate of desserts,” he said. “People here are so respectful. You realize you’re helping people.”
Although students’ car problems are the most common problem during the day, building unlocks become more prevalent as students realize they’ve left bags and books inside a classroom or hallway.
“That’s one thing I wish we did not get saddled with,” Ellison said. “We have such a huge campus acreage-wise and so few officers that anything that bogs them down is a problem.” Ellison said he’d like to see a student chosen for each building to handle those duties.
Ellison said the police force desperately needs more officers. A recent retirement only one officer mans a shift at a time. Taylor said he works around this problem by patrolling a lot, doubling back, making it seem like two cars are patrolling.
Taylor’s stops are fairly mundane. He warns a pair of students who are parked in a fire lane in front of Brown Library; he stops a student driving the wrong way and blaring her horn in the Mabee Hall parking lot.
It’s a far cry from working in Arlington, like he has done, or in Beaumont, like Ellison has done. The force has more time for investigating minor things-a string of auto burglaries last year or a string of harassing phone calls, which is what Taylor is working on now.
But that doesn’t mean trouble couldn’t come the university’s way, Taylor says. To prove his point, he leaves his normal route and drives less than 100 yards south of the entrance to Sherrod, Smith and Adams halls.
He drives around seemingly innocuous streets during the day. Along these streets, bounded by Cockrell Drive, North 8th Street and Stevenson Street, houses in disrepair slouch, bleached by years of sunlight. At night, many of them are havens for drug dealers, gangs and prostitutes.
“We just have to realize we don’t live far from people who have to struggle from day to day,” Taylor says, hastening to add that not everyone in this neighborhood is a drug dealer or a potential thief. “ACU’s a great place. We’re so much safer than other places, but we’ve got to remember not everyone goes to ACU.”
And that’s where Taylor, Dalbert, Ellison and the rest of the force come in. They patrol 24 hours a day, helping students along the way and ultimately making sure they’re out there for potential criminals to see.
And that’s why Taylor’s eyes don’t stop moving as he drives-why he leaves the windows rolled down so he can see and smell everything he drives past.
“The hard thing about police work,” he says, waving to a passer-by, “is it’s your business to get into people’s business. It takes a while to get used to that.”