n the early hours of the morning, when most students are still asleep and the USC campus is dimly lit with the yellow glow of streetlights, Department of Public Safety officers-in-training Derrick County and Triston Gibson prepare for foot patrol. Their blue uniforms, complete with badges adorning their chests and belts bearing meticulously organized defense equipment, are crisply pressed. It’s their fourth week on campus, and the new officers want to be prepared and ready to learn.
On Aug. 31, County and Gibson graduated from the Los Angeles Police Department Academy after training for over six months. Now, they face an additional four-month training period with DPS before becoming sworn in as public safety officers. During this time, they will work closely with more experienced officers to learn how to interact with community members, as well as grasp technical skills like documenting reports, operating vehicles and responding to calls.
For the two Southern California natives, the USC campus and surrounding community are familiar. However, they now approach the well-known streets through the lens of upholding safety. And on a campus where DPS has faced criticism for racial profiling, County and Gibson aim to build connections with their community and serve students first.
California born and raised
For County, this dedication to community safety stemmed from his father, a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy. Growing up in Los Angeles, County watched his father dedicate himself to serving his community, a practice that came to shape his career.
“My father just always told me ‘remain humble,’” County said. “If you want it, then you have to have the drive … to go out and get it.”
Before joining DPS as a public safety officer, County worked as a community service officer at USC, responding to minor incidents like fire alarms and providing safety escorts on campus.
During foot patrols, County likes to engage with students to gather feedback on how DPS can improve its service to the community. During the encounters, County said students often suggest places they think would benefit from additional security.
Gibson came to DPS with a similar interest in law enforcement. While studying for a degree in criminal justice, he worked as a security guard at a local bank for eight years, an experience he said taught him how to interact with people in need.
Working with police
County graduated from the LAPD Academy as the class leader, a position he said is given to a recruit who demonstrates leadership skills, testing proficiency and a dedication to teamwork and career building.
“Some people could be down that day, and [it] just [means] saying ‘I’m here for you if you need me,’” County said. “Sometimes, you might actually have to study with the person [or] you might actually have to [practice] arrest and control procedures.”
DPS officers receive the same training as members of the police force, a standard employed for peace officers across California. Although the training program is followed by a 40-hour work week, County said he had to put in extra effort to incorporate the lessons he learned into his off-duty life.
For Gibson, working with other recruits at the LAPD Academy motivated him to do his best during this rigorous schedule. He also spent time practicing on his own and kept thoughts of his fiance in mind during challenging moments, like passing firearm safety training.
“It is motivating to watch other recruits work and see how hard they work,” Gibson said. “It keeps you going.”
Though Gibson and County graduated from the LAPD training, DPS will continue to prepare them for specific interactions on the USC campus, according to DPS Field Training Officer Randall Martinez.
“The reason why we continue to train is to maintain a level of consistency and professionalism,” Martinez said. “We want to make sure that they give the utmost 100 percent professionalism to anybody out there.”
Sergeant Ralph Roseli, who has worked with DPS for 21 years, also works to train new DPS officers, helping them address any gaps in knowledge and develop leadership and communication skills.
“I think after receiving an outstanding education and experience such as LAPD Academy, one feels like there is a certain amount of knowledge one has, but when you come to apply it to the real life in a field training program, suddenly you realize that you don’t know as much,” Roseli said.
Martinez said he supports trainees like Gibson by passing along his perspective on the realities of law enforcement.
“I wanted to be a field training officer so that I can pass on my ethics to my trainees,” Martinez said. “I am a little hard on some trainees, to get them to work at the level that I would love them to work.”
Even after a few weeks of working together, Martinez noted Gibson’s work ethic and maturity as traits that set him apart in training. He said these qualities help him collaborate with others and making them feel more relaxed and at ease.
“I see him as an outstanding officer, someone who actually cares for this community — someone who really wants to put his mark in this University,” Martinez said. “I see him teaching others the way he has been taught and … doing great things for this University.”
Gibson has also learned from Martinez’s mentorship as his training officer.
“The main thing [I have learned] is to show initiative and pay attention to the little details because those little details could be what you need at the end to make everything come together,” Gibson said.