While you’ve probably noticed that the Augusta University Police Department is sporting a sharp new look, Public Safety Director James Lyon wants you to know the changes are more than skin deep.
“Yes, we’ve got a new visual identity, and we’re very proud of that, but we’ve made a lot of important changes that go below the surface, too” Lyon said.
Though the new visual identity might be the most obvious change, Lyon has overseen a long list of significant administrative and organizational changes since arriving in Augusta in March of last year. The overall aim? Increasing community engagement.
“We developed our mission, vision and values shortly after I got here,” he said. “Strong community partnerships is part of that mission.”
In short, Lyon wants the department to develop a strong relationship with the community it protects through initiatives like Coffee with a Cop and Pop with a Cop (the residence hall move-in day popsicle giveaway begun last year) and by getting officers out in the community – significantly increasing the number of foot patrols, adding a bike patrol and doing more outreach.
To help with that, Lyon restructured the department and among other things added a community services division, which is primarily responsible for having an eye on community policing and crime prevention efforts, things that weren’t as pronounced in the past.
Crime prevention efforts include things like going to new student and new employee orientations to talk about topics such as basic safety and the RAVE Guardian app to conducting active shooter training. Lyon says there is a multiplier effect to these kind of education efforts. You learn it and you take it with you into the community.
Also important to the structure was the creation of the deputy chief position, which oversees patrol operations.
“We wanted to make sure that the community policing aspect is infused with our daily operations,” Lyon said. “We can say we do community policing, but if Patrol doesn’t do it, then it doesn’t work.”
And as more attention is being given nationwide to the type of training given to law enforcement officers, Lyon said it was important for his officers to be community guardians rather than warriors, a theme that is reflected in newly designed patrol vehicles.
“Choosing to put the Jaguar on our patrol vehicles was a big decision for our rebranding team,” Lyon said. “We wanted to promote the idea that the Jaguar symbolizes the guardian of the community – always on watch, but ready to become a warrior when necessary.”
Another important change: Officers are now carrying Narcan, known as the Lazarus drug for its ability to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Augusta University officers started carrying it in October, well before most system departments. Currently, the University System of Georgia is in the process of requiring all of its officers to carry it.
As for the new look, Lyon is very happy with the results.
“The look of the department is obviously very important, because when we walk out the doors and into the community, we are a billboard,” Lyon said. “We are a visual reminder of the university and what it represents.”
Not only are the uniforms a change in color (formerly black and grey, they are now a dark navy blue), but they’re more comfortable as well. The outer skin of the uniform has changed so that officers are able to carry their vests on the outside, where it is incorporated into the look of the uniform. Obviously, that is a big asset in the Georgia heat.
A new patch, a new design for the cars and even a special design for the new bike patrol all adds up to a clean, updated look that matches the new changes.
“It’s been an unbelievable opportunity,” Lyon said. “Not every chief gets to come in and change not only the culture of the department, but the look as well.”