The black-ink, military-style forearm tattoo, and the buff, broad-chested strongman look leave no confusion to Lester Fetterman’s profession. And if that’s not enough, the army-issued faded buzz haircut screams all business.
Since January, Fetterman has served as the assistant police director for Gannon University’s Police and Safety Office. He brought with him decades of experience, including 23 years with the Erie Police Department and numerous training certificates.
Former lieutenant commander of the SWAT team for 10 years, Fetterman has attended more than 70 police-related schools, training sessions and seminars, which include several instructor-development schools. The SWAT member has also served as an Erie Police K-9 unit officer along with previous work in the vice and narcotics units.
Since Fetterman, 52, was hired into a leadership role for Gannon’s police department on Jan. 2, different training aspects are being emphasized. Things like use of force and extra instruction are receiving attention.
Fetterman brings plenty of experience, knowledge and widespread training from sessions and seminars held in Illinois, Arizona, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Connecticut and New Jersey.
Fetterman said he will use his career experience as well as he can to help Gannon.
Theft, assault, illegal substances – crime is a part of our world. Every college or university has to deal with campus safety and security. On April 20, 2000, the Gannon Police and Safety Office took the leap from security force to full-fledged police force.
Similar to regular police forces, such as the Erie Police Department, Gannon Police have arrest powers, jurisdiction and conduct their own investigations. The Pennsylvania Private Police Act allows such nonprofit organizations to protect and serve their communities as long as the action is within the establishment’s boundaries. Gannon University Police and Safety officers must still complete the Act 120 training, which certifies them as fully trained police officers.
The Act 120 training includes 5 1/2 months of required preparation to become a certified Pennsylvania police officer.
The Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) defines what it takes to become a police officer: One must be 18 years of age or older, a high school graduate or GED recipient, a United States citizen, free from disqualifying criminal offenses, able-bodied and examined by a psychologist. Aspiring officers must also pass physical fitness testing, undergo a background check and complete the Act 120 course.
Gannon Police and Safety has 11 sworn police officers, three campus security officers and eight dorm security officers. Gannon requires each of its 11 police officers to pass the state requirements along with updated first aid certification and quarterly gun range qualifications.
When Fetterman came across the topic of Police and Safety’s upcoming training, his eyes widened. His brawny build shifted forward in his rolling chair until the wheels were ready to burst off. Use of force – this training instructs officers on how to reasonably use force in numerous situations.
“I don’t want guys going overboard, overreacting,” Fetterman said. “Force is used to stop action, not punish it.”
Gannon Police and Safety officers have never had to fire a gun, and use of force training will be used to assure that altercations on campus never escalate high enough to change that.
According to the United States Department of Education and its Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) campus-required reports, crime on Gannon University’s campus has risen three consecutive years. A crime rate is a percentage calculation using the population of campus full-time and part-time students, faculty and staff along with citizens living in the designated “campus” area. The crime rate is per 100,000-person population.
In 2010, the rate was 897.4 for all part 1 offenses. That includes three assaults, three burglaries and 31 larcenies. In 2011, the crime rate rose to 902.06. Gannon’s campus saw two forcible rapes, four assaults, four burglaries and 37 larcenies – every category of the part 1 offenses rose, with the addition of two forcible rapes.
Last year, the crime rate climbed to 945.94 per 100,000. Gannon had eight assaults, five burglaries and 39 larcenies. Since 2010, the total number of offenses has gone from 37 to 53.
But now that Fetterman has joined with Gannon Police and Safety, crime on campus encounters a new face and could reverse its trend. One face that has been patrolling the downtown campus for a few years is Officer Phil Mineo.
Mineo, 32, graduated from Edinboro University with a criminal justice degree and attended Mercyhurst North East, where he completed his Act 120 police academy. The Erie native has been with Gannon Police and Safety since 2009.
Mineo rocks a Mohawk hidden beneath his Gannon police hat. The tall, wiry officer is in full gear as he discusses weapons and training. Each Gannon police officer is equipped with a 9 mm Glock 19 handgun. The Glock 19 is an update from last year.
Compared with the Sig Sauer P26 9 mm hand guns of previous years, the Glock 19 9 mm works better, Fetterman said.
Mineo said he agrees that the Glock 19 9 mm is superior.
“These new guns are a lot more user-friendly,” Mineo said, “much lighter and more accurate as well.”
Handguns are not the only equipment upgrade for Gannon’s police department. New exterior bullet-proof vests are now offered. The upgrade allows for more breathability and comfort while still going unnoticed and protecting the officers, Mineo said.
Other weapons and gear carried every day by Gannon’s police force include pepper spray, stainless steel Smith and Wesson handcuffs, an optional carbon fiber baton, a radio walkie-talkie, two extra 17-bullet magazines, hand gloves, keys, a flashlight and, of course, the official Gannon University Police and Safety badge.
The last and most visible upgrade for police and safety came in the form of brand new police vehicles. Two white 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokees, fitted with full interior lighting and a radio communication console, now patrol from French to Liberty Street and from Front to 12th Street. The new vehicles replaced the Honda CR-Vs and are the only cars used by Police and Safety.
So with all the work put in to improving equipment and hiring new people, how do Gannon students feel toward Police and Safety and the caliber of work done? Max Easly, a junior marketing major, would like more officers or more patrols.
“I live on Seventh and Myrtle, so I am on the outskirts of campus,” Easly said. “Sometimes I feel I see city of Erie police more than Gannon.”
Kortney Zimmerman, a junior accounting major and student-athlete, said she likes building relationships with the Gannon police officers to feel comfortable.
“I think getting to know the officers, like Phil, really makes me feel safe because I know they care about me and are around enough to know who I am,” Zimmerman said.
Chris Pike, president of Student Athletic Advisory Committee and a junior at Gannon, said he thinks Police and Safety is doing great.
“Besides a break-in last year at Delta Chi, you never hear of any problems on campus,” Pike said. “Heck, for being in the middle of a city like Erie, the Police and Safety do a tremendous job protecting us.”
Fetterman said he left the Erie Police Department for Gannon to help students achieve their goals and because he was looking for a slower-paced environment. Slowing down crime rates on campus are a part of the plan, Fetterman said. With better, more thorough training and effective equipment, Gannon Police and Safety could do just that.