In a second-floor classroom inside the Carroll Building at Georgia Southern University, equipped with dimmed fluorescent lights and a projector, Statesboro Public Safety Director Wendell Turner holds a policing lecture class with about 25 students each Wednesday.
Actively engaging his class, Turner uses real-world examples drawn from his more than 20 years in local law enforcement to reinforce course material and offers his students a unique perspective on what it means to be a public servant.
Turner has worked as an instructor at the university for almost two years. He also teaches an online class called Issues in Homeland Security.
“It is very fulfilling to me to be in a position to give back to the student body and university which gave me my foundation with my [bachelor’s] degree in justice studies,” he said. “I am literally teaching in the very same classrooms I was in as a student.”
A classroom session
Armed with a remote for his PowerPoint presentation, Turner led students through a nearly three-hour discussion last week.
“We’re covering chapters 5 and 6 today, guys,” he said.
But there were no groans from his audience, only the clicking of keys on a couple of laptops and students finding their pencils to begin taking notes – most visibly eager to hear the stories Turner was sure to tell during this session.
Turner sees himself as an accommodating, understanding, fair yet firm instructor. That description seems accurate. As students trickled into class late, Turner was sure each had a chance to sign the roll and moved forward with his lecture without pausing for reproach. It’s apparent that he cares enough to know, or at least understand, each student’s situation.
“I am very understanding of the students’ positions in life. I was a walk-on football player when I came to GSU in 1991, had to work at night for income, and later began a full-time law enforcement career with Statesboro PD, so time management and very understanding professors were critical for me to complete my education,” he said. “GSU was also very accommodating for me during this time. I can recall many meetings with my advisers and GSU registrar Michael Deal, who worked with me to obtain my credits for graduation. I owe them a debt of gratitude. So you can see, I understand their position and can relate.”
His students also seem to know Turner’s leniency comes with high expectations, and classroom participation is a must. Each seemed prepared to engage last week’s discussion, ready to ask or answer questions. On Wednesday, the class discussed the changing face of law enforcement as more minorities are joining departments all over the country.
“It’s important that the department looks like its community,” Turner said, adding that is something toward which Statesboro is working.
Turner paused on a slide about department demographics and asked the class a question. Hands went up. After several students chimed in with answers and asked a few questions of their own, Turner said, “Great discussion, guys,” and gave a student in the front row a high-five. “You guys are on it.” And he moved forward with the lecture.
Turner believes his unique perspective from his past experiences as a GSU student, his many years of local law enforcement experience and his current position allow the students to relate to him well, but his sense of humor and storytelling abilities also help.
As the class began discussing different career opportunities in law enforcement, Turner said, “It’s becoming increasingly more difficult for agencies to attract good applicants. It takes anywhere from 50 to 65, 70 applications to get one good applicant.”
He told the class how Statesboro uses a structured process to find the best candidates and offered the class a few tips for getting hired, giving students a glimpse into the city’s side of the
process. candidates and offered the class a few tips for getting hired, giving students a glimpse into the city’s side of the process.
“You’ve got to want to serve the community. You’ve got to have a service mindset, a service heart. It’s all about doing the right thing, helping folks no matter what they look like or where they’re from,” he said.
He told the class that, as officers, they have to be prepared to see some pretty awful things. It’s not an easy job, but it can be rewarding knowing you are protecting people in your community.
“Have you ever been shot at?” a student asked.
“Yes,” Turner said, and he went on to describe one instance in which a man had locked himself inside his apartment with a rifle. As Turner and his partner were making their way toward cover at the back of the building, the man began firing at them out of a window.
“We were within 20 yards of the house, and I’ll never forget it because now I hear witnesses explain it to me. I saw the barrel come out of that window and that barrel was like a cannon and it was a .22 rifle,” he said. “… We were just caught between 10 yards to get to the tree [for cover] or standing right out in the open. The only thing we could do was drop down. There was a curb cut, and a curb cut is usually about 8 inches. I got behind that 8 inches. I made that 8 inches work, buddy. My partner did too. And the rounds sounded like bumble bees going by because that’s how close they were. They went through some bushes, and the rounds started tumbling, started having wind resistance and that’s what we were hearing. It sounded like a bumble bee whizzing by our heads. But it was a good result.”
Officers at the front of the building caused a distraction so Turner and his partner could make it to cover, and the suspect was apprehended.
“It’s very much real-world experience, not just reading out of a book,” said senior Madison Bridges, a justice studies major. “I think it’s beneficial for students to hear real-world perspectives.”
Turner also uses the class as an opportunity to help students gain experience in their fields, encouraging each to apply for internships and offering assistance and guidance in making those decisions.
“The experience he has has really helped me,” said junior Braden Dobbins, a criminal justice major aspiring to someday join the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s internal investigations team. “I’ve met with him after class one time, and he’s given me some good pointers.”
As Dobbins left class Wednesday, he and Turner briefly discussed the progress in helping Dobbins apply for an internship with the GBI.
Turner also takes the opportunities from the classroom to recruit for Statesboro.
“We have had several of my students intern with the Statesboro Police Department and many are applying to work with us currently,” he said. “This is a plus for the student, GSU and the city in my opinion.”
Turner said he hopes “to be a person of positive influence in a student’s life.”
It was clear after class that Turner has had an impact on these students. Nearly 10 students stuck around after class to talk about the lecture, discuss internship opportunities and how to gain work experience, and even learn details on arrest procedures and DUI stops. Turner approached each question with professionalism, patience and a touch of humor.