On the beat

When Campus Public Safety Officer Peter Ward is on a shift patrolling Portland State’s campus, he tries to greet everyone he meets with a smile and a hello.

This was no less the case on one of Ward’s recent foot patrols. No matter who he met—kids and teachers from the Helen Gordon Childcare Center, students, or one of the street preachers in the Park Blocks—if Ward was able to greet them with a “good morning” and a kind word, he did.

“I try to build up a rapport with the university community,” Ward said while on patrol. “This is what I’m here for; this is my job. Helping people doesn’t have to be police-oriented—if I can help someone, I will.”

Ward has been a police officer for 35 years, starting with the Merseyside Police in his hometown of Liverpool, England. An officer there for 32 years, Ward spent some of that time working in a specialized unit countering organized crime.

Ward moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2007 to be closer to his oldest daughter and grandson, who by then had moved to Hillsboro. After spending time with the Portland Police Bureau and the Tigard Police Department, Ward came to PSU’s CPSO in 2012. He has also given lectures on policing at the University of Oregon.

“The substantial difference [was] that I was not armed with a firearm,” in Merseyside, Ward said, adding that “although the probability of dealing with someone with a firearm [was] unlikely, [it] did happen.

“In both environments I had the same issue,” he said in an email. “I could not dedicate as much time as I would wish to develop a relationship with the different segments of the community, which made up my ‘beat.’”

One of the things he enjoys about working in a campus environment is the variety of people he gets to meet on his patrols, which he prefers to do either on foot or on bicycle.
“When I talk to people, I like to get them to feel like they’re helping me. It’s all about the relationships,” Ward said.

Ward comes from a family involved with law enforcement—his parents were police officers, one of his sisters is a retired police officer, while another is a crime prosecutor in England (the equivalent to a district attorney in the U.S.).

Ward originally joined the force in England because they promised to foot the bill for his studies if he went to college. However, he found he enjoyed police work so much that he wanted to make a career of it.

“I’ve always been grateful [for that],” Ward said, adding that a love for the work is important. “If you don’t have a love for this job, you shouldn’t do it.”

On his patrols, Ward not only tries to get around the grounds on campus, but also inside campus buildings, greeting everyone he meets and checking on offices and classrooms where crimes have occurred to make sure everything is okay. If something or someone seems suspicious, he checks it out with humor and a smile.

Outside on the patrol, Ward contacted a subject who appeared to be pacing back and forth in front of one of the dormitories. An assault had recently taken place on campus, and the pacing subject appeared to match the description of the assault suspect, who was still at large.

Ward approached the subject to make sure he was okay—he was, and turned out to be a student who remembered meeting Ward some time ago. Ward, upon being reminded of this, joked about being old, apologized for not remembering the student and explained the assault.

After verifying the student’s PSU identification, and determining that the student was not the assault suspect, Ward thanked the student for his cooperation and help, appreciative of the student’s assistance.

“Something I’ve learned in 35 years is if you have an itch, scratch it,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than [seeing something suspicious], not checking it out, and wondering ‘what if.’”

Ward makes sure that his positivity on patrol is what helps him establish and maintain positive relationships with those he contacts in the university community and the public at large, and he makes sure that attitude extends to other areas of his life as well.

“My role is to become known as Peter Stuart Ward… who foremost is an approachable and friendly person and then a Campus Public Safety Officer,” he said.

The emphasis Ward places on building relationships is one he brings to every aspect of his life. Ward’s love for police work aside, he stressed the importance of not letting it overwhelm him.

“I’ve seen what people can do to each other, and you can’t let that get to you and become cynical,” he said. “You take reasonable precautions, but [you] can’t worry that everyone will cause you undue harm.”