When Ed Cochran took over as Washington & Jefferson College’s director of protection services in October 2001, the relationship between the students and campus security guards appeared to be strained.
“They didn’t talk to the guards, and the guards didn’t talk to them,” Cochran said. “It was as simple as that.”
But the longtime public servant in the Washington area said he and the other officers slowly rebuilt the relationship with the students by standing on the stairs to Old Main during class changes and just talking to them. He and his new full-time staff of officers, after previously using contracted guards, welcomed the students into the college’s small public safety office to chat.
Soon, a string of false dormitory fire alarms and other campus mischief by students faded away.
“The only thing you can do is sit and talk to them, and not just about safety,” Cochran said about working with the students. “If you can get them to talk, you can find out what they want and what they think they need.”
Not long after, Cochran became a minor celebrity on campus, posing for photos with students during commencement or being introduced to parents visiting their kids.
Cochran, 62, is retiring at the end of the month after spending more than 12 years as the college’s police chief. His final day on the job was Dec. 20, and he has mixed emotions about retirement.
His tenure was highlighted by the improved relationship with students, but also marked by tragedy when W&J football star Timothy McNerney was killed in October 2012 during a robbery just a few feet off campus. Another incident earlier this year in which shots were fired near several students walking home from the bars on South Main Street also shook the campus.
“Both of them were just terrible acts that you hope your children won’t encounter,” Cochran said. “The McNerney situation was the worst you can imagine.”
It took nearly a year for Washington police to make arrests in the McNerney case, but Cochran praised the city’s detectives for their diligence. Cochran spent 27 years as a Washington police officer before retiring as chief in 2001 to take the W&J College position.
The close working relationship between the college and city has been important over the past decade, he said.
“The good thing is that we know city police well,” Cochran said. “Four of our five officers here are retired city police, so we know we just have to pick up the phone and call. They know what we need. That’s comforting on our end that we know we can do that.”
Eva Chatterjee-Sutton, vice president and dean of student life, praised Cochran for this dedication to the job, improvements to the department and relationship with the students.
“He has provided leadership for safety initiatives on campus, worked with local law enforcement agencies and overseen the safety awareness of our community,” Chatterjee-Sutton said. “We thank Ed for his many years of dedicated service to the college.”
No decision on Cochran’s replacement has been announced.
Cochran isn’t sure what he’ll do now that his career as a police officer is winding down. He plans to take a month off – his first lengthy vacation in nearly 39 years – and maybe find a part-time job or immerse himself in a new hobby.
Regardless of what he decides, Cochran said what he’ll miss the most at the college is working with the faculty and students.
“That was the same thing I said when I left the city,” Cochran said. “I made some really good friends from the campus, and from the students. It takes a special type of person to do it, and I still enjoy it.”