Inside the University Police: On the night shift with Sgt. Woollard

(Photo by Brad Leuchte)

The dispatcher’s voice was cool and collected – “Control to car 10.

“We need a door unlocked at the 1812 house. Some students doing a project.

“Car 10 to control – copy that. En route,” replied Sgt. Joseph Woollard.

Although this is an average call for the Framingham State Campus Police, that’s just the way the officers on campus like it – no risk, no danger, no injury.

Woollard drew a double shift – 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. And 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on this Thursday night, a night officers usually say is the busiest.

The force employs a chief, four sergeants and five officers with two in training. The department is currently understaffed by five officers, resulting in double shifts.

“This is my third double since Sunday,” said Woollard, “but it’s the kind of police work that I love doing. It’s community police work.”

Drawn to the flashing lights and the fast cars since he was child in Foxborough, Woollard said he always knew he wanted to be a police officer. He was deeply influenced by the officers he encountered as a kid, he said.

“The cops were good guys in our community,” Woollard said. “I’m not saying that cops are the bad guys in any other community, but they’re seen that way there.”

Woollard graduated from Plymouth State University in 2010 with a bachelor’s in criminal justice and is currently working on his master’s at FSU.

He worked for a short time at the emergency room at Tufts Medical Center in Boston as a security guard. For those security guards, work is “a war zone,” said Woollard.

“It’s gruesome in the hospital. You see kids who got beat up, people who hang themselves. Some that survive. Some that don’t. And some that are kind of vegetables, where they pull the plug later. It’s a tough place to work,” he said.

“The human brain isn’t meant to see some of the things that police officers see,” he said. “When I see those guys now, I give them the utmost respect, and ask them if they need anything else. … Sometimes, I think they just need a couch to lie on and someone to talk to.”

One late night at Tufts Medical Center, around 2 a.m., “This guy got stabbed a couple times in the back. He rides his bike literally into the waiting room,” said Woollard.

The man then proceeded to the back room, where he scooped gauze and medical tape into his arms and tried to leave again.

“He just grabbed the stuff and tried to run out the back door. We were like, ‘No you don’t.’ We ended up having to tackle him, and they drugged him up. It was bizarre.”

Woollard soon accepted position with the Framingham State Campus Police force, where work is much more laid back.

“Most of the time, it is extremely mellow. We’re doing more community police work. We’re going around, makin-,” Woollard stopped for a moment to listen to dispatch. “Sorry, we’re basically going around making people feel safe that we’re in the area. But when it gets crazy, it gets crazy quick,” he said.

Woollard has worked for campus police for almost six years now. He soon learned that working on a college campus meant dealing with suicide attempts. It’s an unfortunate reality for campus police officers and not at all uncommon, he said.

“A couple years back, a kid tried to commit suicide,” said Woollard. “He cut his throat, punctured a couple holes in it. He was bleeding all over the place. He didn’t die. Three hours after doing it, he called us up and said, ‘Hey, I tried to kill myself. It didn’t work. Can you come help me?’”

Among the numerous suicide attempt calls the sergeant responded to, one stands out the most.

“The worst suicide attempt I saw, one girl slashed her wrists really, really, disgustingly bad and then downed a BJ’s-sized thing of Tylenol, which would just make her bleed out, and her friend called us. She was wearing a sweatshirt that was just saturated in blood. She got help. I’m not sure where she is now.”

Woollard said campus police works very closely with Framingham Police. His patrol car had Framingham’s dispatch on as well as campus dispatch and Framingham Fire dispatch. This is partially because maintaining a cooperative relationship among these departments and the community is important, and also because many of Framingham Police’s calls concern college students, he said.

“When you put a bunch of 18-to-22-year-olds in a condensed area, they’re going to cause trouble,” said Woollard. “I miss college.”

On one of Woollard’s first nights on the job as a campus police officer, there was a massive off-campus party, he said. On a nearby side street, “a group of kids were putting the boots to another kid.”

Woollard was called in to apprehend the perpetrators. The foot chase began, he said.

“So here I am, just out of the academy like, ‘Oh hell yeah,’ and I go running through the woods. I’m tripping over things. These kids were in shape, I’ll give them that.”

Finally, where the Salem End Parking Lot is now located, Woollard said he caught up.

“So I’m walking around the side of the building, holding my keys, thinking I’m all stealthy and awesome, and I see him lying underneath this abandoned car, and I scream, ‘Wait right there! Put up your hands!’ I was so excited,” he said. “So I’m one for one on my foot pursuits.”

The more common calls don’t involve situations where police lights – or “cherries and berries” – are necessary, said Woollard.

It’s now 10 p.m. on this Thursday night. Students are just beginning to skip from dorm to dorm, preparing for the night ahead.

“It’s quiet right now,” Woollard said, driving past North Hall.

Even though their jobs don’t involve busting down doors and making arrests on the regular, this doesn’t mean they aren’t busy. They regularly take note of suspicious campus activities, and they know how to locate the trouble spots.

“We know a lot around here. You’d be surprised.” He said, while driving around the areas where students have been known to get in trouble with smoking pot.

“When they see me, they sort of disappear into the woods,” he said. “If no one was bothered enough to call, we’re not going to go start an issue at that point.”

To Woollard, the rule breakers are not the troublemakers. Instead, he and other campus officers recognize the reality of the college experience. They work instead to make sure everyone is enjoying that experience as safely and responsibly as possible.

“We know that kids here are going to party,” he said. “What do you really expect? At Campus Police we are not going to condone it. But it’s really just the kids who go overboard that we look for. The extremely unlucky and the extremely dumb are the ones who get caught.”

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