Taking the helm of the Ohio State University Police Department doesn’t allow much time to breathe.
The number of events and people on campus week-to-week keeps the department on its toes and busy at all times.
New police chief Kimberly Spears-McNatt and deputy Tracy Hahn are excited about their new jobs and love the work, even if they haven’t had the time to sit back and enjoy it.
“Really, we’ve been extremely busy,” Spears-McNatt said. “I don’t think anything has had a chance to sink in because I’m still going, going, going.”
Just getting a taste of the hectic schedule for University Police, one might expect the pair to have time to finally take a deep breath and enjoy their appointments when students left for spring break. That assumption would be wrong.
Instead of a relaxing, empty campus, the week of spring break is packed full of high school sporting events on campus that call for the department’s attention.
The duo has no complaints, though, and Spears-McNatt and Hahn are eager to tackle all the challenges of policing a large, active campus while also leaving their own mark in the process.
“I want to make sure that our agency continues to move forward being just as diverse as the community we serve,” Spears-McNatt said. “Then community engagement, making sure, one, that our officers are accountable and two, transparency.”
Spears-McNatt said she will focus on a stronger relationship between officers and the student population.
Having been an Ohio State student herself, Spears-McNatt said she understands the spirit of campus and how beneficial a strong relationship with students can be for her department.
“We can have these one-on-one conversations and dialogue with the community,” she said. “When they see maybe Tracy or me, or any officer on campus, that there is no stigma associated with the uniform.”
Spears-McNatt said her responsibility for students doesn’t end at campus borders.
“Just because they live off campus, they’re still our students,” Spears-McNatt said. “We’re still responsible for them.”
She said that the duty to protect off-campus students is mainly achieved through the joint patrol that University Police performs with the Columbus Division of Police, where officers from University Police and CPD patrol the off-campus area together. However, the department also strives to make strong connections with off-campus students through various events where students can meet and speak with officers.
Spears-McNatt might understand the department’s role on campus better than anyone. Not only was she a student, but she started her career with University Police and has spent her entire career in the department, something she said is rare in the profession.
In addition, Spears-McNatt has an emotional connection to the very building out of which University Police operates, Blankenship Hall.
The building is named in honor of officer Michael Blankenship, who was a University Police officer killed in the line of duty in 1997. Blankenship was also the officer who trained Spears-McNatt on how to ride a police bike.
“To be able to know that I am responsible for an agency that is named after him, I take that very personally, and I am honored by that,” Spears-McNatt said. “Each year when we have the memorial, his family comes back, and I know them personally, so realizing although Mike is gone, he’s never forgotten.”
Hahn has her own Ohio State roots as well, as she is an Ohio State alumna and also served three years with University Police beginning in 1990 before moving to the Upper Arlington Police Department.
Since her graduation, Hahn has enjoyed a 28-year career in law enforcement, most recently as police chief for the Upper Arlington Police Department.
She said serving on a campus will be different from serving a residential area, from working with students to learning laws unique to campuses, such as Title IX. But the change was exactly what she was looking for.
“Everything is real fresh, and that’s one of the reasons why I came over here, to freshen up my career and start learning new things and challenge myself a bit,” Hahn said. “I like working with the younger population versus the municipality.”
Hahn said she shares in Spears-McNatt’s conviction to build a strong relationship between officers and students, something she will have to do herself for the first time.
One of the ways the duo said they have been able to make a strong connection to the student body is through Undergraduate Student Government president and vice president Shamina Merchant and Shawn Semmler, respectively.
And the sentiment is certainly mutual. Merchant said that she and Semmler have enjoyed working with Spears-McNatt over the past several years and feel that she has been a strong ally in USG’s efforts to protect student safety and well-being.
“Even through one conversation, it is so easy to see how much she genuinely cares for students and their safety,” Merchant said. “At the start of our term, the chief told us that she felt students should be focused on their education and shouldn’t have to worry about their safety. That was her job.”
Spears-McNatt and Hahn brim with confidence and excitement as they talk about driving the department in the years to come, but for now the daily grind still beckons.
Spears-McNatt said preparing for commencement is already on her mind, and Hahn has the football team’s spring game to focus on — it will be her first time working a football game, something she’ll need to be familiar with come fall.
“I am learning football. I know the game of football, but to work football,” Hahn said. “Spring game is coming up and it’s gonna be, they’re guessing about 75,000 people, so it’s almost like a big, real game.”