Simmons, left, with Colwell speaking to a CSU freshman criminal justice class. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
MORROW — After working his way through the ranks of Lake City Police Department to captain, Harold Simmons thought he’d done pretty well for himself without a college degree.
Simmons, 52, had attended college classes sporadically through the years after graduating high school and enlisting in the military but didn’t think having that degree would impact him one way or the other.
“I had no incentive to finish because I was at the top of my game,” said Simmons. “I was captain, second in command, why should I complete that education?”
His boss, Chief David Colwell, didn’t share his reasoning, however. Colwell, too, had finished college as a non-traditional student.
“He asked me why I didn’t finish and I told him I didn’t think I needed to,” Simmons said. “One day, he told me we were going for a ride.”
Simmons said he thought they were going to grab a bite to eat.
“The chief drove me right out to Saint Leo University to sign up for classes,” he said. “In a year, I had finished up my degree. I was 49. Don’t wait until you’re 49 to finish your college degree.”
Simmons and Colwell were on campus Thursday, not as students, but as guest lecturers in Dr. Jason Davis’s freshman Examining Community and Criminal Justice course at Clayton State University.
“This class focuses on trying to help students with retention and being good college students,” said Davis. “They learn the importance of networking and finding someone to study with. They also all have an interest in criminal justice.”
The two police officers stressed the importance of not only starting college but taking it seriously enough to finish and pursue a career, preferably in criminal justice.
“Education is a better arsenal than any weapons you can buy,” said Colwell. “Getting that degree is a feeling no one can ever take away from you. It’s a different feeling from even graduating from high school.”
One tool of a successful student is time management.
“I make a list every day of what I need to get done,” said Colwell. “It’s very important. Sometimes police work is snap, snap, snap. When we have to make a repair, we don’t have the luxury of sitting with you for three hours. You must learn to prioritize. You have to be able to figure that out.”
Another tool is networking.
“Everyone has different talents,” he said. “Network with other students, find those talents, share your own talents.”
One of the students asked about Index Crime Statistics, wanting to know the most common violation.
“The most common crime is theft,” said Colwell. “They are mostly crimes of opportunity, nuisance crimes.”
Simmons concurred and pinpointed a popular target.
“Everyone loves to take phones,” he said. “Phones are very important to people and iPhones are stolen a lot more than other items. Theft isn’t going anywhere.”
Another student wanted to know how the officers handle the emotional aspect of their jobs.
“There are things you take home with you,” said Simmons. “You have to learn how to process that in a different way or it affects your family because you do carry it with you. That’s the bad part of the job but it doesn’t outweigh the good.”
Simmons, the father of four and grandfather of three, said the worse part of his job is responding to child abuse calls.
Lake City is home to less than 3,000 people and is flanked to the north by Forest Park and to the south by Morrow. The main drag is Ga. 54, the same highway that leads to and away from CSU. It’s a quiet community that is reflected in the daily operations of its police department.
“This job can be demanding or boring,” said Colwell. “It can be 58 minutes of routine followed by two minutes of adrenaline rush.”
But whether officers are writing a speeding ticket or drafting an incident report about the theft of a laptop, Simmons said being able to create a comprehensible document is essential.
“The better your skills are, the better off you’ll be,” he said “We are secretaries in a car and everything we do has to be documented.”
“You want to get it right because you’re putting your name on it,” he said.
In wrapping up the presentation, the two men offered safety advice to the students. Simmons told them about the traffic laws dictating that drivers “move over” if they see the blue lights of a police car stopped on the highway.
“The law says you must either move over a lane or slow down for safe passage,” he said. “It’s for the safety of the officer and it’s an $800 ticket so keep that in mind.”
He also reminded the freshman students — all of whom were in high school just months ago and likely passengers in a big yellow bus — that it is illegal to pass one of those buses when it is stopped for loading or unloading.
Colwell talked about an age-old driving requirement, wearing seat belts, and a more modern complication — texting.
“Wear your seat belt,” he said. “It will save your life. And do not text and drive. I’ve seen it cause two deaths. Studies have shown a person texting and driving is more dangerous than a driver who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You can have an accident that quick.”
Colwell brought home the importance of staying focused behind the wheel.
“There is no text message that important to cost someone their life,” he continued. “If it is, pull over, text all you want to and then continue driving.”