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From student to officer: Public Safety encourages graduates to serve

SUNY-ESF grad Ray Richter


By Ryan Gainor
Published: 5/2/2005

After Public Safety Officer Ray Richer's friend from his SUNY-ESF days has a few drinks, he picks up the phone and Richer knows the routine. Oinks like a pig and questions of if he smells bacon come from the other end of the line.

"My friends give me a hard time a little bit," Richer said.

Richer, a 2003 graduate of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, now works with Public Safety's Students for Community Safety Division, the same division he worked for as a residential security aid as a student. Richer is currently pursuing a master's degree in either education or communications and rhetorical studies with an ultimate goal of becoming a teacher. Because he is a university employee, Richer can attend classes for free.

If Public Safety Chief Marlene Hall has her way, Richer will be just one in a long line of students making the jump from the dorm room to the first floor office of the Public Safety Department in Sims Hall. Hall said she hopes to fill several vacancies in the department this year with graduates of Syracuse University and SUNY-ESF who know the area, have experiences in different academic fields and different cultural experiences. The department is also growing and needs more officers, with recent university plans for expansion downtown.

"A lot of times, people mistakenly think we are looking for a strict background in criminal justice," Hall said. "But we really want a creative, innovative department that needs a diverse background."

In particular, Hall wants students who have had experience on a college campus, where people are generally more accepting of different people and would like someone with a proficiency in a foreign language, like Spanish. Hall was studying psychology, with plans to study the minds of dolphins and whales, at Vanderbilt University when she decided to take what she considered to be an easy job, working as a dispatcher for the security department there, she said. The job turned out to be busier than Hall expected but she loved the excitement of it. After taking that job, Hall has never left the realm of law enforcement but does think her area of study, psychology, has helped her in her work, particularly with her expertise of dealing with domestic violence.

Hall has known officers with experience in engineering, philosophy and robotics, just to name a few, she said. Currently, there is a need for those with computer skills.

Richer said his knowledge of the campus and quick learning style have helped him move up in the ranks of the department from a Community Service Officer, where he started in September of 2003, to having finished Peace Officer training and helping to oversee the Students for Community Safety Division. Although he still spends much of his time on a college campus, his lifestyle has changed.

"At the last house party I went to before I started with the department, I said, 'This is the last time I can really party with you,'" Richer said. "My friends understand the line that has to be drawn."

Those friends often joke that Richer is a morphed version of the movie character, Van Wilder. Richer changed his major while at SUNY-ESF and ended up staying five years, graduating in 2003. His friends ask him why he hasn't left yet, and his parents remind his of his goal of becoming a teacher.

"I like it here," Richer said, quoting Van Wilder and laughing. There are days when he considers getting his graduate degree and moving on, but there are other days, when things go right, when students come up to him and say hello, and he loves the work he does. "If I have the opportunity to stay with the department, like (Capt.) Grant (Williams) working with students in crime prevention," Richer said, "I don't want to leave."

Public Safety Officer Kimberly Isaac, who knew Richer when he was an RSA, knew that he wanted to go on to graduate school and "twisted his arm" to apply for a job at Public Safety to help the department and save Richer money on tuition. Isaac did and still does work with the Students for Community Safety Division. She said the work she and Richer do with the division is the best of both worlds, where they do not only get to see students in trouble, but also get to work with and help students succeed. Isaac knew Richer would be a good fit because of his work ethic and the way he always kept his word. Isaac said she never caught Richer talking on his cell phone or doing anything he wasn't supposed to, which is sometimes the case with students in the RSA program.

Isaac wants to see Richer succeed and achieve his ultimate goal of becoming a teacher, but she hopes he stays at SU for a while first. "It's very evident when (Richer) is going on a call that he conducts himself like he is going to teach them," Isaac said.

It is the teaching part of the job, his ability to work with young people at the Students for Community Safety Division, that Richer really loves.

"I always wanted to be with Students for Community Safety," Richer said. "They are important. They are our eyes and ears in the dorms." Richer has yet to write up an old friend while on patrol for the department, but has refereed four students to Judicial Affairs, each time explaining that he understands what its like to be a student but he has a job to do.

There have been times, however, where the job has made Richer feel older than he is. One such instance involved a drunken ex-student wanting access to Lawrinson Hall to meet a girl, not knowing her name or room number. Another involved a student walking to the Mount with writing all over him in the early morning hours. Richer suggested he take a shower right away. There have also been those times when Richer has been called for students "worshipping the porcelain goddess," as he puts it.

"At some times you just shake your head. I mean, I did that stuff but I don't remember it being that bad," Richer said. "At least I was always able to walk home."

Richer never had a particular interest in law enforcement or being a cop. He enjoys the work, nonetheless, and would recommend it for anyone who has ever wanted to be a cop or who has an interest in a future job in higher law enforcement, such as in the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Karen Esposito, administrative assistant for the Students for Community Safety Division, knew Richer when he was a student, too. Early on, there were no indications Richer would go on to be a Public Safety Officer, Esposito said. Esposito described Richer as a normal student who partied like normal students do early on in his career.

"Ray can relate to a lot of the problems students see," Esposito said. "They like Ray because he used to do what they do."

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