Mary Harrison, staff writer
Berry Chief of Police, Jonathan Baggett, is set to retire at the end of this calendar year after 28 years on the college’s police force, an email announced last month. Major Ryan Chesley will take charge of the Berry College Police Department in 2022, although students should not expect any major changes in the department’s operations.
Chesley has worked with Baggett for his entire 15-year career with the police force and said his focus as chief will be hiring and training new officers to continue Baggett’s legacy of professionalism.
“We’re a very new department right now because we have a lot of new officers,” Chesley said. “That’s the next phase of Berry [Police Department], growing those officers and teaching them how to be not just police officers but how to be good ones and how to be good ones for Berry.”
A Berry graduate, Chesley (04C) has spent his entire career at Berry, working as grounds manager at Oak Hill before joining the Berry Police Department in 2006. Chesley believes that the college police force has a responsibility to be part of the educational process for students.
“In the policing world, I think we have a unique position to be very, community oriented,” Chesley said. “I just want to continue that tradition and be a part of the community and help make Berry better.”
Chesley also seeks to continue partnering with campus residents to promote security during his upcoming tenure as Chief of Police.
“I think the [police department] here has always, embraced the philosophy that community involvement is paramount to safety and security, but I want people to understand that that can only get better with everybody’s participation,” Chesley said. “We want people to, have a conversational relationship with us about their needs and concerns, and what we’re doing well so that we know what things to reinforce. I think if they’d do that for us, then we’d all be better off.”
Baggett, who has served as chief since 2018, said that he is retiring to spend more time with his family and to travel with his wife in their motor home, although he says he will miss the community that he has gained at Berry.
“Berry’s a good place to be,” Baggett said. “It’s enjoyable to come to work at Berry every day and see the beauty of the college, and the people. There’s people I’ve worked with here for 28 years.”
While working on the Berry police force, Baggett has responded to extraordinary events such as on-campus plane crashes and fatal bicycle accidents. Baggett has also dealt with the death of two officers on the force due to health issues, including one COVID-19 death, Jeff Smith, during his time as Chief of Police.
During the pandemic, Baggett also oversaw the police force’s adaptation to social distancing, including the challenging transition to taking incident reports over the phone.
“Berry’s the kind of place where we don’t have a lot of crime, but we have a little bit of everything,” Baggett said.
Baggett became one of Berry’s first official policemen after the force was officially recognized by the State of Georgia in the 1990s. The current chief says he is proud of the safety improvements the college has made during his time on staff, especially in the past eight years, with building the new Welcome Center, naming all the roads and residence hall rooms on campus for emergency response purposes, installing security cameras and a recording system for college telephones, taking inventory of every ID card scanner on campus and beginning computer-aided dispatch.
“The department has accomplished a lot since I’ve been here, not necessarily all by my doings,” Baggett said. “I think everyone here is a part of it, and there’s nothing that ever got done while I was the chief that [Major Chesley] didn’t have a part of, that the sergeants didn’t have a part of, and everybody else.”
There are ongoing internal discussions about hiring a new major on the force to replace soon-to-be Chief Chesley, according to Gary Will, assistant vice president of campus safety and land management.
Will said that Berry’s police department, along with other police departments across the nation, is short-staffed due to the current political climate, retirements and concerns over the novel coronavirus. However, Will does not anticipate any issues with the upcoming change in leadership.
“I expect a seamless transition,” Will said. “Chief Chesley might have his own way of doing things, and that’s fine, [but], you’re not going to see a difference.”