The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary sits nestled in the Crescent Hill neighborhood of Louisville. The large trees and beautiful homes gives the area surrounding Southern a warmth beyond its property lines.
“If someone handed you a map of the city of Louisville and said to pick a great location to place Southern Seminary, you couldn’t have picked a much better one than this location,” said Assistant Chief of Campus Police Ed Burgin. “It’s just a great environment to be in – low-crime, good location, great people to work with.”
But in March 2007, 22 members of an LGBT activist group staged a protest at R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s office on Southern’s campus, demanding a public apology for Mohler’s stance on homosexuality. The group tried to enter the President’s Office without permission but were unable to enter; the door was locked. Campus Security asked the protesters to leave the property, but when 12 of them refused, security called the Louisville Metro Police Department. Officers were unable to arrive, however, until about 45 minutes after the event started.
The affair was peaceful, but it was clear the campus needed better provision for a safe and secure environment. This began a four-year process of finding the right security option for campus needs. Until a permanent solution could be found, Southern implemented a hybrid of a few sworn officers and a security team. But Southern needed a faithful team consisting of sworn and armed officers on campus at all times. The seminary established Campus Police in June 2011 as part of a program through LMPD called Special Police. Southern is one of the few institutions of its kind with its own staff of sworn and armed officers.
“It’s almost like fighting for what you believe in, and in our case protecting what we believe in,” said Chief of Campus Police Kevin Collins. “I have not been called to the mission field or called to be a pastor or anything like that, but I believe in Southern.”
Collins retired from the Phoenix Police Department in Arizona after 22 years and taught police management in the United Arab Emirates. All 12 of the Campus Police officers are retired from LMPD and combine for over 300 years of police experience ranging from patrol to homicide units. They are what Collins calls an “A-Team of guys,” attributing the department’s ability to have such a high caliber staff to Southern for providing the necessary funding. Because of their extensive police background, working at a Christian institution is a very different experience and environment for the officers.
“I think it was probably a learning curve for all of us,” said Burgin. “Getting here on campus and you are in a community of fellow believers and going to that dynamic where it’s not about catching a bad guy and enforcing the law so much as it is being here in a service capacity.”
The officers are a close-knit group. A few of the officers even worked together at LMPD. But the core of their relationship comes from their common Christian faith.
On any given afternoon you can find groups of people talking theology in Southern’s dining hall. While people engage in similar conversations at other theological institutions, uniquely at Southern this includes the Campus Police officers on lunch.
“We do have a Christian worldview that is conducive and fits into this environment,” Collins said.
Burgin said a former Campus Police officer told him his secular job “was a night and day” difference because his new co-workers did nothing but bicker and backstab. In contrast, Southern’s police force says its office is often filled with spiritual conversation and their common faith and worldview makes friendship a natural response.
“You form a good friendship with them and I think that forms a good working relationship with each other,” said Campus Police Officer Tom Miles.
The unit forms a bond of trust during twice-a-year active shooter and annual weapons training. Southern’s officers told Towers staff this trust cannot be formed by the training at large police departments where officers do not train with their unit.
“You’re actually out there training with each other, where at LMPD you’re not training with the guys on your platoon,” said Miles. “Here we actually get to train with the people, that if something serious does happen, that’s who is going to be next to me.”
Campus Police has also built good relationships with the other departments at Southern, advising staff in their responsibilities and other good practices from a police standpoint. However, many in the Southern community remain unaware Campus Police is a resource at their fingertips.
“The campus community benefits greatly from Campus Police, but I don’t think they recognize what they have,” Collins said.
Campus Police affirms their sacred duty to serve and protect an institution vital to the Southern Baptist Convention and the culture at large. Collins said he does not take for granted Southern’s commitment to training pastors and holding essential doctrines of the faith.
“It’s important to have people here to safeguard our community and the environment here, because it’s not a given that it is going to remain status quo,” said Collins.
Campus Police also protects President Mohler while he is on campus. Officer Mark Fulmore is stationed in the Norton hallway to safeguard Mohler as well as the rest of the offices in the building. Fulmore also accompanies Mohler to chapel. It’s an “honor,” Fulmore said, for him to be able to serve Mohler.
“Being able to have that responsibility and recognize what that is, I feel very fortunate to be in that position,” he said.
The quiet but steady presence of Campus Police is even a comfort for parents of prospective Boyce students. Miles said parents have approached officers after hearing about Campus Police on a tour with Admissions and inquired about the neighborhoods surrounding campus and the safety of Southern and their children.
The idyllic setting of Southern is a naturally safe environment, and Campus Police officers spend much of their time serving residents in small tasks like unlocking doors. But when danger or protesters come knocking, Campus Police is ready to defend Southern Seminary.