When the University went to remote instruction in March 2020 because of COVID-19, many employees began working from home. But not all jobs can be done at home or over Zoom. In “We’re Still Here,” The Well catches up with employees who have been working on campus all along. Follow the series, including Keeping Carolina healthy and Keeping Carolina clean.
An hour into UNC Police Officer Charlin Bolin Tickle’s 12-hour patrol shift, the first fat drops of a spring downpour pelt the brick courtyard outside Frank Porter Graham Student Union. Tickle heads for her squad car, parked near South Building, where she keeps a raincoat in a pink backpack, along with a traffic vest, tourniquet, cooler of snacks and all the paperwork she might need while on duty.
It’s 7:30 p.m., and she’ll be on patrol until her shift ends at 6:30 the next morning.
During the last year, while many Carolina employees worked from home via Zoom, the 47-year-old mother of three has amassed more than 1,300 hours of campus security patrols, much of that time on foot at night — or the early morning hours — which is how she likes it.
Tickle is one of 60 UNC Police officers who show up for work wearing masks and following Carolina’s COVID-19 Community Standards to protect and serve the campus community. Last March, after the campus shifted to remote operations, the UNC Police had to adapt, like everyone. Except for staff meetings and trainings, most police work needs to be done in-person.
“We’re still out. We’re still there,” says Assistant Vice Chancellor and Chief of Police David Perry. “That’s what law enforcement is about, finding a way to come up with a solution. We were able to do that. We found ways to sanitize our vehicles from within. We found ways to wear the proper PPE, even with all the extra equipment we already have, all the life-saving tools, and then found ways to meet without jeopardizing our safety.”
For example, to safely accommodate the police dispatchers, he had to spread out into a formerly shared space in the Public Safety Building. “Hats off to Transportation and Parking Services for bearing with us as we took over that shared space,” Perry says.
Tickle, for one, thrives on the personal interaction. Last spring, she says, “it was very weird walking into the department and not seeing a soul. That’s our hub of activity. That’s where we catch up. It sounds like a cliché, but I see these people more than I see my family. They are my family. I joke that I have eight of the best big brothers in the world, because I do.”
Tickle begins her shift with a directed patrol — a visual inspection from her vehicle to make sure everything is OK. “That’s when you notice little discrepancies from the last 12 hours,” she says. “Yesterday, I had to text Lt. Mosher about the traffic counters. I noticed a lot had popped up in Area 1 that weren’t here during my last shift.”
As if on cue, she points to an orange box strapped to a light post with a pole-mounted camera peering down Cameron Avenue. “Unfortunately, people like to put stuff on campus that they’re not supposed to. It’s just a matter of being observant and paying attention to your areas.”
Mosher called and checked on them. They’re legit.
Tickle has public service in her DNA. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, she was a police officer in Virginia before retiring in 2008 due to an injury. After that she worked for the Alamance County board of elections, but then an incident in the board of elections parking lot inspired a return to police work.
In the parking lot, a man was arguing with a woman.
You need to let her go, Tickle told the man.
What are you gonna do about it? he asked.
Tickle, throwing her shoulders back and cocking her chin, said, Let’s go, buddy. Let’s do it.
The man looked at the 5-foot-tall middle-aged voter registration coordinator and said, For real?
Yeah, let’s go! Let me throw my heels off, and let’s go!
The man swore at her and left.
That’s just my boyfriend, the woman said. He acts like that.
Girl, Tickle told her, you are worth so much more than that. Let him go.
And then Tickle thought, I miss being in the police!
For the second time, Tickle entered the police academy, the oldest candidate in her class. She was considering a job on the Winston-Salem police force, but said the UNC Police is a better fit. “There are 60 of us in the department, and I can pretty much tell you everybody’s name and their face. Everybody says that with the police, fire and EMS, you’re a family. This place truly embodies that.”
Lt. Jeffrey Mosher (above right) leads roll call at the Public Safety Building off Manning Drive before Officer Tickle and her fellow patrol officers start their night shift. Tickle works what is known as a modified DuPont 12-hour shift schedule — two days on, two days off, three days on, two days off, two on, three off. She works every other weekend, 14 days out of the month. The schedule allows UNC Police’s four patrol squads to cover campus 24/7, 365 days a year.
Following roll call (above), Tickle prepares to head out. Every shift, she walks six or seven miles. Her ballistic vest and duty belt — with mace, handcuffs, holster and gun, ASP baton, glove pouch, radio, flashlight, magazine holder and body camera — add around 20 pounds. Tickle’s mask came from Old Navy. “It’s cute, and it matches my uniform. When you’re the only girl on the shift, you can do that,” she says. “I have five. I rotate them out and wash them every other day.”
Patrol officers stay in touch via radio or (above) a mobile data terminal, aka the “brick,” a laptop-like computer mounted next to the steering wheel. During her shift, Tickle covers Area 1, the oldest part of the campus, bordered by Franklin Street, South Road, Columbia Street and Raleigh Street.
Tickle had the poem “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley, tattooed on her left arm two years ago, just before she entered the police academy. “The guy who wrote this lost both legs,” she says. “The last two lines are, ‘I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’ If I’m ever down in the dumps, and I need to pick myself up, I think of him and his words.”
Though incidents dropped off after the shift to remote instruction, the calls still come — calls about stolen bikes and laptops, noise complaints and animal sightings, like a deer in the road or a raccoon eating out of a trash can.
Students working late in a science lab might call.
“We’ll walk them to their car if necessary,” Tickle says. “It’s part of making sure everybody feels safe on campus. I have three kids who are college students. I would hope that their campus police are doing everything that I’m doing to make sure somebody else’s kids are feeling safe.”
Sgt. James David has been a sworn officer since 2010. Before that he was a Carolina undergraduate — a double major in economics and the curriculum in peace, war and defense — who worked part time as a security officer on campus.
David said the fact that he is a Carolina alumnus has been valuable. When he was a patrol officer, he says, “we’d get calls for well-being checks — students just overwhelmed with work — and I could say, ‘Hey, I have been in your shoes. I know exactly what you’re going through.’”
During one of those calls, he helped a student with her economics homework.
Since 2015, David has been the UNC Police community services manager. He and his two team members mostly lead campus trainings and speak to incoming students.
Trainings are one police job that translates to Zoom, but virtual trainings don’t have the same energy, David says. From September 2019 to March 2020, when the pandemic hit, David held 26 separate active-shooter trainings. Since March 2020, he has held six, five of them virtually.
Last week, David held his first in-person active-shooter training in a year — for a group from the Air Force ROTC in the main hall of the Armory.
“It is important to conduct the training where those folks are,” David says. “If, God forbid, something happens, that’s where they’re going to be. It helps to incorporate their everyday environment into that training.”
Being in person allowed for hands-on activities to teach people active resistance and also, David says, “added a little levity to a somber and dismal subject. It helps calm the tension, helps people breathe.”
Before the Columbine school shooting in 1999, the response to an active shooter was similar to a weather emergency, David says. You hid — under your desk or behind something.
“That’s fine for weather, but if somebody is trying to hurt you inside your building, it’s not as effective,” he says. “We all have that fight or flight response. Hiding out, you’re not really doing either. That builds anxiety.”
During the active-shooter training, the first exercise replicates the old thinking. “You hide and wait,” says David (above left). “We have a role player with a Nerf gun and soft yellow Nerf balls that don’t cause any injury. They go through and take a couple shots.”
The next exercise in the active-shooter training (above) involves active response. “Now folks can create barriers, pile up desks and chairs,” David says.
“To simulate what we call weapons of opportunity — or fighting back — we give them plastic balls,” says David.
“They throw balls to simulate fighting back. They see that difference in response from our role player. Instead of moving freely throughout the room, they’re suddenly stopped by a hail of balls coming at them as soon as they get through the door. It drives home the importance of active response.”
David says the recent in-person training gave him hope. So did getting vaccinated. “It was the overall comfort factor,” he says. “I had that armor on now.”
He says Chief Perry has been a great advocate of getting folks vaccinated as quickly as possible. “I understand that I’m a moderately healthy younger adult. COVID probably wouldn’t affect me that much,” David says. “But what if I accidentally gave it to someone else and they got really sick? It’s a huge comfort knowing I’m vaccinated.”
He’s looking forward to once again being able to speak in person at new student orientation. “Having to do it online works,” he says, “but there’s just something about meeting people in person. My corny jokes go over much better in person than online.”