Service is a way of life for new UWG police chief

You can say police work runs deep in Tom Saccenti's blood.
The University of West Georgia's new police chief took the oath to serve on his 18th birthday, after a childhood of counting officers among his heroes. Saccenti, who previously served as chief of police at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., starts in his new role Sept. 1.
"Prior to that, I volunteered in the police department," Saccenti said of his first job. "I have wanted to be a police officer my entire life."
Public service runs in the family as well. All four of his siblings have dedicated their lives to helping others as a military doctor, medical missionary, therapist and youth pastor. The desire to serve also reaches across generations as Saccenti's father runs a community counseling center and his mother is a director of nursing.
"We were raised to give back to our community and help others," he said. "Police work was the perfect fit for me."
In his time at Furman, Saccenti led a team of 25 full-time and 100 part-time employees, helping to increase minority employment from 14 percent to 45 percent in four years. Heller Student Services Group named the unit its 2016 Department of the Year.
"As we transition to a new chief, we couldn't have found a better fit than Tom," said UWG President Kyle Marrero. "He has experience in municipal policing as well as on campus. He understands the value of training and forging relationships with students and the community.
"Tom shares our belief that the safety of our students, faculty and staff must be our top priority," Marrero added. "We all look forward to partnering with him to make ours the safest campus in Georgia."
To provide officers access to quality training, Saccenti founded and expanded the National Association of Campus Safety Administrators (NACSA), which has grown to be the nation's largest association of its type with more than 3,500 members. The group provides national, regional and local training events and certification programs for campus law enforcement.
"Networking is essential for the campus law enforcement professional," Saccenti said. "With city police work, you are able to easily network with other cities because there are so many. However, there are limited number of campus law enforcement agencies and even fewer that represent the specific challenges that your agency may face."
NACSA allows officers to quickly network with other professionals of similar-sized agencies. It provides quick and free access to webinars, chapter meetings and other resources that allow members to discuss topics, such as new drugs affecting students, protest groups and new technology.
While he has friends in the area and has served with local church groups, Saccenti said the university's team of officers are the top reason for his wanting to be a part of the UWG experience.
"You could tell they truly cared for their community," he said. "They were enthusiastic about getting a new police chief and they clearly have a deep desire to make the agency great. That is a team that I want to work with."
Saccenti heralded the department's professionalism and national accreditation among its strengths, along with the recent hiring of four new officers. Building a solid squad starts in the training phase.
"Community involvement is important as well," he said. "Not just community outreach - the agency is doing that well. We want to bring the community into the department to help guide some of the things we do. Programs like Adopt a Cop and assigning officers to represent the police department within campus groups is important.
"We will go to them, not expect them to come to us," Saccenti added. "Finally, we have an amazing group of leaders within the agency that have been here for a long time. We plan on taking their knowledge and using it to train other agencies."
Students can expect a transparent chief and department, according to the new chief. He enjoys talking with them and learning their concerns, ideas and suggestions for how the department can serve better.
"Many years ago, I read this statement and have made it my motto," Saccenti said. “'The student is the most important person on this campus. Without them there would be no institution. They are not to be hurried away so we can do our own thing. They are not an interruption to our work but the purpose of it.'”
As for helping improve campus security, Saccenti plans for follow several strategies, starting with building on the strong relationships university police have with local public safety departments. That includes working with criminal justice officials to identify crime trends on and around campus. His team will use that information to define patrols and stationing of resources.
Students themselves will play a large role in keeping the campus safe.
"I think we must use our student resources to determine whether the perception is reality," Saccenti said.  "We must have an open conversation about the crime rate in the area and fully understand the trend, look at surrounding cities and work to identify the root cause."
In addition to his time at Furman, Saccenti has served as chief of police at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio; director of campus safety at Trine University in Angola, Ind. and police chief of the Pioneer Police department in Ohio. He has taught criminal justice classes at community and technical colleges.
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