The First Responder Spotlight Series features law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, and other emergency personnel who make it their business to serve our communities, often in ways we never see, each and every day.
The series is sponsored by McKeithen’s True Value Hardware in Statesboro.
Chief Ryan McNeal has a long tenure in public service and law enforcement. He moved to Statesboro to attend Georgia Southern University and upon graduating, he was hired by the Statesboro Police Department where he worked as a patrol officer. He then worked for the Tri-Circuit Drug Task Force based in Claxton, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as a Special Agent, the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office as an investigator for the licensing boards, and the Georgia Board of Dentistry as the Chief Investigator before landing at Ogeechee Tech in 2019.
Each of those previous jobs provided a unique skill set that prepared him for the Chief’s position at Ogeechee Tech, which is quite the variation from a traditional department.
“Campus law enforcement is absolutely unique,” McNeal said. “I knew that coming into it, having attended Georgia Southern and worked with campus law enforcement, but having the unique jobs I did, it gave me a better ability to accept the unique circumstances of campus law enforcement. I was able to understand right off the bat why things are so different. Changes come easy to me and I’ve not been in the same routine for twenty years.”
For starters, the college has four campus locations across three counties – Bulloch, Evans, and Screven – which makes securing the campus unique. Currently, OTC employs McNeal and one other full-time officer, Kelli Powers, and eight part-time officers who fill in the gaps for evening classes. The part-time officers are employed full-time at other agencies, like Georgia Southern and Statesboro PD, so they’re already acclimate with both law enforcement and the community. OTC also works closely with law enforcement in the neighboring counties to assist with overall campus safety, and both and both McNeal and Powers were recently deputized by Sheriff Mac Edwards in Evans County.
Campus law enforcement is governed by the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Council like everyone else, but also by the Technical College System of Georgia. TCSG’s campus law enforcement office at the state level works as a liaison to the colleges to ensure accurate reporting and compliance with federal guidelines, particularly with regard to Clery Act of 1990 which dictates guidelines for statistics released to the public. McNeal said the Clery Act has been one of the things he didn’t anticipate influencing his work the way it does.
“I didn’t understand the depth to which the Clery Act impacts law enforcement. That’s something that is just much bigger than I knew.” he said.
As chief, McNeal is also responsible for ensuring campus safety and emergency plans are up to date. Exposure control, hazard mitigation, emergency operations, fire safety, active shooter, and the initial response to any type of emergency on campus, among other things. Essentially, among his primary responsibilities is the duty to ensure the school is prepared and equipped to respond to any incident that may occur.
During his tenure thus far, which like most things has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, McNeal has worked with the OTC administration to upgrade the cameras at all of the campuses and integrate newer technology. He’s also overhauled the Emergency Caller protocol. While it seems rather mundane, most emergency calls at OTC don’t run through traditional dispatch for 911 services, but instead someone working in an office on campus. Those individuals may not always know how to identify an emergency or which questions to ask, so McNeal restructured the protocols and created an online training program to better equip those taking calls around campus when a few minutes matter the most.
The versatility of the chief’s job allows him to teach as an adjunct professor at both Georgia Southern and a handful of online schools, covering classes in criminal justice and American government. It also allows him to further his own education. McNeal is a firefighter – and works part-time for Bulloch County Fire Department – and he recently completed the EMT program at Ogeechee Tech, allowing him to get his EMT license. It’s a professional accomplishment, but also one that is helpful in his current position. Considering the location of OTC, he would be the first on scene in an emergency and now has more qualifications for rendering aid until paramedics arrive. For that reason, Kelli Powers is also going through the Emergency Medical Responder program at OTC.
McNeal is working to institute a plan at OTC that resembles one in place at Georgia Southern and relies on volunteers in each campus building. To further reduce response time and activate prepared individuals across campus in emergencies, building captains would be assigned to varying positions in the event of a medical emergency, an evacuation, or other incident.
“They will serve as an extension of us at campus safety and serve as a very initial response until we get there. So, that’s what I’m working on coordinating and implementing now,” he said.
In his interview, McNeal discussed those that had influenced his career over the last two decades. Ironically, the Chief immediately preceding him at OTC, Stan York, gave him his first job back in 2002 at the Statesboro Police Department. “He and I developed a relationship when I was just getting started and it stayed strong and it was really cool to come and take his spot here after he retired after he gave me my first job. That mentorship has continued over twenty years,” McNeal said.
In terms of staff and familiar faces, OTC is a smaller campus, which is one of the things McNeal loves about it. “The people I get to work with at OTC and the administration, they’ve done a really good job of creating a work environment that is a pleasure to come to. You really enjoy all your coworkers and it just makes work that much better,” he said.
McNeal has called Bulloch County home since he moved here for school. He’s married to Heather (Banks) McNeal, the Clerk of Court in Bulloch County, and they have one 11-year-old son, Charlie.