BIG STONE GAP — Mountain Empire Community College's security team just got a big promotion.
The Virginia Community College System and the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services have approved the transition of MECC's security unit to a police force, a level akin to the Campus Police up the road at the University of Virginia's College at Wise. The move follows the lead of other Virginia community colleges to beef up security and safety on campuses across the state.
Myron Hatfield, who has served as the lead campus security officer at MECC for the last four years and has more than 30 years of experience in local, state and federal law enforcement, has been named chief of the newly established MECC Police Force.
James McDonough, also a long time MECC campus security staff officer, will now serve as a campus police officer.
Hatfield said the transition to a licensed police force carries important benefits such as increasing the number of training opportunities available to the college's Police Force, and to enhance the quality of services provided by the department.
Although MECC has traditionally experienced few security issues, Hatfield said recent events on campuses across the nation and elsewhere in Virginia stress the need for safety at public schools and higher education facilities.
Keeping students, staff and the community safe on the campus is the primary mission of his department, he said.
"MECC has had a great relationship with our local law enforcement for years," Hatfield said. "Having an internal police force, however, does bring a lot of benefits to the school. It opens up many specialized training opportunities for our staff."
The MECC Police Force's duties will include monitoring traffic on campus, providing security during special events, responding to calls for assistance and investigating crimes. Hatfield and McDonough will also have the authority to make arrests and carry a firearm, the chief said.
MECC President Scott Hamilton said the college's security team has maintained an excellent relationship with the college community. The transition to a police unit will not only enhance the college's ability to maintain a safe and secure campus, he said, but also legitimize the staff as professionals in their field.
"There are many benefits to establishing a college police force, the most important of which is being able to provide a higher level of security to our students and the people who work here," Hamilton said.
"MECC is committed to providing a safe and secure environment. Establishing a licensed police force will help us accomplish that goal."