Following in the footsteps of her two Polish uncles, Malgorzata “Maggie” Bekier decided to become a law enforcement officer and landed her first job within Cape Fear Community College’s Police Department. But her role as an officer there is not her first experience at the college. She is one of two members in the police force who graduated from the college’s Basic Law Enforcement Training program.
Bekier, originally from Mieliec, Poland, moved to the United States when she was 15. She and her mother came to the country to be with her father and for “better opportunities,” she said. After becoming a U.S. citizen in 2013 and moving to North Carolina from Connecticut, Bekier earned her associate’s degree in criminal justice from CFCC while taking night classes through the college’s BLET program.
The program is not her first experience with college. While living in Connecticut, she began to study science in college but decided to start a different career path after moving to North Carolina.
“I was looking though the majors, what I wanted to do, and both of my uncles back in Poland, they were police officers, so I was always interested in that field and helping others. When I started my associate’s in criminal justice, I just fell in love with it. I met so many great deputies…I helped out with the sheriff’s office and went through the citizen academy,” Bekier said.
After an internship at the New Hanover County Jail, Bekier graduated and is now one of two 2015 graduates of the BLET program on the college’s police force. The 2014-2015 academic year saw 75 graduates of the program, and has a current enrollment 45 students.
“That was an amazing time. I had a blast. And I had…great instructors. I’ve been here three years and I saw some of the deputies working contracts on the North Campus making an impact on some of the students. And one of the deputies had a huge impact on me too,” Bekier said of the BLET program. “I just wanted to do the same for the kids and also give back to the community college. It’s like my second home.”
The Cape Fear Community College Police Department was solidified in the fall of 2014, with just a few new members at its agency under the direction of Police Chief Dan Wilcox. Now, the police department has a full staff made up of a lieutenant, a sergeant and six officers, including Bekier.
Since its inception, the police chief said the agency has worked to improve the security on campus. Safety measures implemented by the police force include improvements to the campus environment such as new LED lighting and taking down brush and trees that impeded visibility on the grounds. They have also worked to increase foot patrols on campus sidewalks, parking areas and inside campus buildings.
“We have been able to improve our uniform presence,” Wilcox said. “We always have an officer-uniform presence on campus.”
Officers become even more visible during major class changes, which has helped the officers’ interaction with staff and students, and has put a face to the police force, Wilcox said.
Bekier said she has enjoyed helping to build the safety of the campus, working with the students and building relationships with everyone there.
“I think we have a really good working relationship with our students. We have a pretty diversified group age-wise and [the officers] get out there and have conversations with our students and the employees all the time,” Wilcox said. “And I really think that opens up a better customer service relationship because we are doing that community policing where we are actually trying to engage with the [college] community.”
Officers attend events with students and lectures given by other instructors, a role that has now become familiar within the agency’s protocol to provide service and build strong relationships, he added.
“When you’re out there, your more approachable [and] you get told a lot of things,” Wilcox said.
As part of their role, officers on campus provide an escort for staff and students when needed, which Wilcox said has been used increasingly at the college. Notices about the service are sent out to everyone on campus, encouraging its use though student and staff emails, and information is provided at student orientation.
The police chief said the service adds to the feeling of security for the people they have sworn to protect.
“We hit them numerous times that it’s out there. How it actually gets utilized is that a student will either request it through the instructor, maybe go directly to security or just call us and just say that they want to have an escort,” Wilcox said.
When asked, police officers will also check up on a student throughout the day and monitor hallways, keeping an eye on a student’s schedule if their safety requires it, Wilcox said. All efforts are just part of the police department’s mission to help to provide a safe learning and work environment for college students and employees.
“That’s what our goal is. And if that means being out in the hallway for an hour while a student is in class to make them feel better or a little bit more secure, it helps them in their learning environment, which is what we are here for,” Wilcox said.
CFCC officers are sworn under the same North Carolina laws as other local law enforcement agencies. Last month, the police department held its first swearing-in ceremony for all officers.
Though the police department has grown, Wilcox said some larger crimes still have to be turned over to other local agencies, due to the limited resources of the college’s force.
“Due to our limited manpower and resources, we turn over the major crimes to the local police agency so they can investigate it. They have the man power [and] resources…for forensic evidence, things like that,” Wilcox said. “We have a really good working relationship with the Wilmington Police Department and New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.”
While major crimes are limited on campus, the police department works to investigate property crimes, vandalism and wrecks on campus. They are also first responders to medical, fire and other emergency-related calls.
“I think that with our uniform presence downtown, I think that it keeps a lot of [crime] outside of our jurisdiction. And again, with cooperation with WPD and New Hanover County Sheriff’s office, their downtown taskforce, I think they have done a really good job of keeping a lot of crimes…away from our campus and the downtown area,” Wilcox said.
In the future, the police department, who sometimes contracts law enforcement to provide extra security on campus, aims to have be the primary uniform presence on the campus at all times. Wilcox said that while the partnership with contract law enforcement has been a necessity for the police department to become established on campus, he hopes to have more of his officers patrolling campus so the police department can continue growing coverage, providing safety to the campus and for their own officers, while building stronger relationships at the college.
“Of course, we are going to grow according to what our budget will allow us to grow,” Wilcox said, who has ongoing conversations with CFCC Board of Trustees about making improvements to the police department.
“It’s not just about the visual presence for our stake holders, but it’s also about the safety of our own officers,” Wilcox said. “We do have the support of the other police agencies, if we need to call them in for assistance…I just would like to increase personnel so we can be a little more sustaining in that area.”
Other future improvements to the police department include growing the police department’s technological capabilities and equipment, including improvements to camera systems on campus, Wilcox said. The police department is also in the process of designing and developing its website, which will include an anonymous tip line. The website could be running by the fall semester.
For more information about Cape Fear Community College and its programs, including Basic Law Enforcement Training, click here.