We’ve all seen the campus police at the University of North Georgia. Most often they’re in the crosswalks making sure students get out of the busiest parking lots safely and effectively. Other than directing traffic and riding around campus, I didn’t know what else the Gainesville campus police did or understand how hard they work to keep our campus safe until I spent two and a half hours with Officer Blake Denna.
When I met Denna for our ride-along together on Sept. 21, he was working on a case in the evidence room of the Public Safety building on Facilities Drive. He asked me to sit in the waiting room as he went about doing his work — observing a substance inside of a brown paper bag, then typing up a police report. He asked me to come back with him and another officer, Chris, to see the work that they were doing and to learn more about the police force.
The two officers showed me the contents of the brown paper bag: 2.9 grams of marijuana and a colorful smoking device. They put the contraband found on campus that day into evidence locker No. 2. Denna and I then headed out of the building to begin the ride-along. He handed me a heavy, black bullet-proof vest to wear, and we headed out.
While riding around with Denna, I learned more about the man behind the badge. Denna started the “Coffee with a Cop” meetings on campus. He said community events help show students that the officers they see are there to “serve the students” and to “protect, serve and educate.” He also has two children (a 5-year-old boy and a 1 and a half-year-old girl) and another boy on the way.
Nothing out of the ordinary happened while I was with Denna, not in his eyes, anyway. However, for me, the whole experience was new and exciting. For the most part, we drove around together, talked and made sure that nothing suspicious was happening on campus. At one point, he stopped to direct traffic and I took multiple selfies (15 to be exact) with him in the background.
On our way back to the Public Safety building, Denna noticed a fender bender that I completely missed. It surprised me how easily he recognized this situation and took control. He pulled up behind the two cars in Parking Lot O, investigated the situation and spoke with the students involved. His movements were kind and gentle as he examined the scene. He was quite charismatic, and it was clear that he wanted to make sure the students were safe and the situation got resolved.
Denna expressed the importance of his job to protect, serve and educate. Campus police help with car lockouts and dead batteries, and provide ride-alongs (and countless selfies) to curious students.
Denna and I parted ways after two and a half hours together. I am glad to have had this experience and to have learned more about the campus police.
A couple of days after my ride-along with Denna, my car broke down on a ramp off of 985. A police officer showed up, asked if I was OK, then gave me a ride home in the back of his car. His main concern was getting me safely off the side of the road. It was good to see that an officer off-campus also embodied Denna’s mentality and spirit. As he drove off, I could see “to protect and to serve” on the side of his car. I thought about Denna, and there was no doubt in my mind that he would make the same effort for any student on campus in need.
You can schedule your own ride-along with campus police here.
To see what else the campus police do, go here.