HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) – Safety on our college campuses is a top priority for university leaders, adding technology and manpower.
High Point University is following suit to keep a closer eye on anyone who enters the gates of the school.
Their leader is a woman of firsts who knows the campus well and considers it home: Chief Debra Duncan.
“This is my dream. I’m living the dream. I’m coming back 360 and went full circle,” Duncan said.
She started as a sworn police officer in 1978 and joined the High Point Police Department in 1980.
“I started out wanting to save the world … Then I realized you can’t save the world, but maybe you can help people one person at a time,” Duncan said.
Duncan was one of just five women on the force at the time, and the only woman on her patrol team.
“I was put in a very high crime area to see if I was going to be able to make it, so I knew that I needed to work hard, but this is what I wanted to do,” Duncan said.
High Point is where she developed her passion for community policing by connecting with people on a personal level and helping even when a law wasn’t being broken.
“Safety is a shared responsibility, so if we’re going to make this work, we have to work together,” Duncan said.
Her commitment to the community earned her the respect and title of captain. She is the first woman to hold the rank.
She put her community policing philosophy to work in 2001 when she took on the role of campus police chief at Virginia Tech.
From there, she held the title of chief of police for Monroe and served on the city council. She took on the role of campus police chief at Johnson C. Smith University and Smith College in Massachusetts.
Just when she thought her time in policing was winding down, and she might pursue a career in law, which she earned a degree in and was a member of the bar in North Carolina and Arizona, she saw the job posted at High Point University.
“When students leave home, they leave home for the first time. They come to college, and a lot of the time, they leave their good judgment at home,” Duncan said.
Duncan was officially sworn in in March. She’s leading a team of 12 officers. Many of them are retired from other departments.
“They’re seasoned. They’ve got a lot of experience, and I tell them when I hire them … our focus is on student safety and building relationships, and if you can do that, I want you to come here,” Duncan said.
There are an additional 70 security guards who patrol the campus.
The group oversees 2,000 cameras on campus. They use license plate readers to track vehicles coming in and out of the university. The on-campus telecommunications center fields an average of 340 calls for help a day during the school year.
Duncan knows that technology only goes so far. That’s why she walks the campus each day.
Duncan likes the steps and the fresh air, but she also enjoys talking to students face-to-face.
“You can ride around in a cart … If you do, you’re not going to talk to anyone. If you get out and walk, people stop and talk to me, and I talk to them,” Duncan said.
Students bring concerns to her when they see her on campus. The issues could be interpersonal or questioning why motorized scooters aren’t allowed on campus.
Duncan tries to attend as many student meetings and gatherings as she can to be a friendly and comforting face.
“We want to go further. We want to build relationships. It’s not about how many tickets you can write. How are we going to influence our students and put them on the right path?” Duncan said
Duncan tells FOX8 her priority is move-in day where she’ll meet students and their families on Aug. 19, Aug. 19 and Aug. 20.