Careful listening while learning can produce poignant moments, and such was the case for Gary Green, captain and the assistant director of Ferris State University’s Department of Public Safety. A couple of significant phrases struck his ear when he was a recruit attending the Michigan State Police academy in 1989.
“Trooper Rodney Olney, who had volunteered his time to lead my group, had a wrinkle he would work into our ‘up-downs,’ or pull-up routine,” Green said. “He would call out that we needed to ‘hang there,’ holding a fixed position, regardless of where we were in the repetition. I took this as a call to persevere, feeling that if I could make it one more second, whether it was during a physical trial or to pause and consider all my options in a moment of conflict, I should hang onto all that I had been taught, so I could make the best response in those tough moments.”
The other axiom had to do with what a law enforcement professional needed to remember during each encounter of every shift as they served the public.
“He would tell us again and again that ‘you live in a fishbowl,’” Green said. “It let me know that someone was always watching our interactions while in a traffic stop, taking a report from a citizen, and this was well before the digital age, with mobile phones and cameras in most everyone’s possession. It brought about a great focus on accountability for every action I took, a reminder that I must always act and think with integrity in mind. I took him to be saying that if we remember that concept, especially during the hard times, we had a great foundation and opportunity to succeed in our role.”
Green said he has not kept in touch with Olney, who has since retired from the MSP, but those messages heard as a 22-year-old recruit still resonate, as Gary serves the university community and leads fellow professionals and cadets seeking their Criminal Justice degrees at Ferris.
“Those messages were such important things to receive. I doubt he knew how significant they were to me,” Green said. “It crystallized what I should keep in mind and has become a big part of my professional philosophy and message for those I interact with on the job. Now, just like then, people are keeping track of our actions and responses.”
Green built a career of increasing responsibility with the State Police, with assignments including fugitive recovery, investigating cold cases, applying technical considerations to identify auto thieves, and providing security for state, federal and foreign executives. He also had a period of service in Afghanistan, joining a task force that conducted investigations to identify insurgents before carrying out attacks on citizens or military groups.
“We made a focused and aggressive pursuit of the evidence necessary to identify perpetrators, so the military and local law enforcement could find these suspects and apprehend them and present them to Afghan authorities for prosecution,” Green said. “The task force was made up of 30 professionals during my time in Afghanistan, but the investigative team grew to 230 the year after my assignment.”
One of Green’s later assignments with the Michigan State Police was as assistant post commander in Mount Pleasant, where former Ferris DPS Director Bruce Borkovich was a peer in that building, serving as a Department of Natural Resources investigator.
“I was reviewing my professional options, having been with the State Police more than 28 years,” Green said. “I was well acquainted with Bruce and was open to making the change to join the DPS at Ferris when he encouraged me to apply. My daughter, Liberty, had already expressed her interest in studying Criminal Justice, so when Bruce presented the opportunity to me, I agreed, and Liberty joined me at the university as a student.”
Green started at Ferris in 2017 as a road officer, with responsibilities as a liaison in the newly opened North Hall. Shortly thereafter, the assistant director’s position, serving as a captain, became available, and Green was one of two finalists.
“It was an opportunity to make the most of my experience with the MSP. I was blessed to be selected and have enjoyed this role with the department immensely,” Green said. “Whether you serve the public in a community or on a college campus, you are dealing with people, where their ethnicity is no factor in the response. People have the same cares, anxieties, family concerns and every right to our kindness, no matter where they are from or their skin color. Showing them a willingness to help in a time of need will bring about the best results.”
Green said the philosophical foundation he developed as a recruit in the MSP academy still serves him well with the DPS.
“There are situations where someone might refuse to accept our directives, but I know I can make things go better or worse when I arrive,” Green said. “A majority of the time, if I seek to build rapport with that person and show them kindness, it will be the best course. That is the philosophy I bring to every response I make, on or off the job.”
Green is not a direct supervisor to students who serve as cadets, handling parking lot patrols and other duties for the DPS, but he consults regularly with Detective Sergeant Tim Jacobs and interacts with the student employees.
“I really appreciate having students in the mix here because the experience they get as service officers and cadets is great,” Green said. “There are also student dispatchers who report to Brittany Taylor, our dispatch specialist. The student employees learn to exercise discretion and properly respond in their roles. They might make a call on writing a parking ticket or decide to issue a verbal warning instead of a citation. That is a true experiential learning opportunity. Cadets know they can come to speak with me, and they may not be ready to make a particular decision or might wonder how I will respond, but I find their judgments are spot-on much of the time. I am envious of the opportunities Ferris provides them. It would have been an asset in beginning my career.”
Working with students who want to be law enforcement professionals, Green said sometimes he can relate his experiences to provide insights on some difficulties in maintaining relationships with the public.
“The impact of technology is both a benefit to our service and an obstacle,” Green said. “Officers do not walk a beat much these days. Walking a beat was, in my opinion, an asset to building community. If officers get out of the car and interact with community members, it goes a long way to building trust between the officers and the community. The proliferation of mobile devices that can record and transmit video means an observer can capture the response, showing the worst moments of serving as a peace officer. It is dramatic and immediate, but when there is no context with that message, it can harm the public’s level of understanding and their appreciation for our intentions. Since we cannot often frame those occasions as officers, transparency in our service to the campus and community is affected. We recently learned that the amount of demographic data gathered during our shifts could stand improvement. A contact demographic sheet has been produced, so the details of gender, race and other facts are recorded and known, along with the particulars of the incident.”
Green said gathering witness information and other pertinent facts are essential components of being professional and transparent as a department.
“These are essential elements for building trust with the people we serve and encounter, serving as a guideline for our intentions during every shift and call,” Green said.
Along with his career change, Green continued and recently expanded his involvement in local ministry. Gary built upon a family tradition, becoming the pastor of the Wheatland Church in Remus.
“Shortly after I became a trooper, I got involved in opportunities to work with people in need and began my religious studies,” Green said. “I have family members from all over the area, many of them attend Wheatland Church, and I have been an ordained elder for nearly 20 years. The church has a lineage that goes back to when the Underground Railroad’s trail led into eastern Mecosta and nearby Isabella County. My great-great-grandfather, Thomas Cross, was the first pastor of that church in 1869. Someone aware of my record of service and family ties to the church sought me out, and I began in this role around Easter of 2020, in the first rush of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been blessed in this role, very happy to serve there, and will continue with my duties at Ferris.”