James Lyon, Augusta University’s new director of public safety, comes to the institution with more than 20 years of campus law enforcement experience and a strong love for the role public safety plays in a university environment.
“One of the things I really enjoy about college and university policing is being able to take the law enforcement perspective into a community policing approach and being part of the education process for students,” he said.
Growing up in Florida, he joined the Air Force after high school and became a law enforcement specialist. When he got out, he put himself through the police academy and landed his first job at the University of Central Florida.
“I took the job thinking I’d do a couple of years there and move on to a municipality or the state police or something like that, but the more I got into the job and the more I was around the students and the really vibrant environment of a university, the more I just really loved the job,” he said. “And I’ve been doing that since 1993.”
Since then, he’s also had stints at Davidson College and Northeastern Illinois University, where as chief of police he oversaw the police, security and emergency management operations for four campuses and approximately 15,000 faculty, staff and students.
An advocate of community policing, Lyon plans on having his officers much more visible to the Augusta University community.
“The community policing approach is finding those opportunities to be able to engage the community in a positive way,” he said. “That is getting out in the community and talking to students, faculty, staff and visitors and making our officers available to the public.”
Those positive interactions build trust, he said, so that when a crisis occurs, the community feels comfortable being able to approach them.
“It’s also about being proactive,” he said. “It’s being out there in the community making sure that we’re looking for potential crimes and looking for ways to solve community problems that could lead to crime.”
Lyon comes to campus just as the governor seems poised to sign a campus carry bill opposed by Chancellor Hank Huckaby.
“It’s something obviously the chancellor doesn’t think is a good idea, and as a law enforcement professional within the campus, college and university environment, I don’t think it’s a very good idea as well,” he said. “The problem is, students are still learning the good decision-making skills that more mature adults have. Sometimes, they don’t make the right decisions or very good decisions, and I think when you mix that with the use of a firearm, it’s a very dangerous situation.”
Lyon is chair of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, College and University Police Section, which passed a resolution a few years ago opposing campus carry legislation.
Lyon’s approach involves preventing problems where he can, and universities are uniquely equipped to help him do it.
“There are avenues to approach a situation where a student gets in trouble and doesn’t quite make the right decisions,” he said. “Within the college and university environment, there are opportunities to solve those problems with the educational component. Some of those tools aren’t available in the municipal world.”
It’s all part of providing the best and safest environment for the university community.
“It should be about the education process of the institution,” he said. “It should be about helping our students get through that educational process successfully and, in the process, making sure that we are out in the community building trust with the community members to help them be successful and help those students be successful. That’s one of the things I think we will really be focusing on in the future.”