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Keen on Helping: The Department of Public Safety reflects on impactful 2023

(December 12, 2023) - Police Chief John Keener, Clayton State University’s Director of Public Safety, has plenty to be thankful for this holiday season.

Clayton State's John Keener is honored by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp

And he said he owes it all to the collective effort of his department team.

To close out an eventful 2023, Keener was recently honored state-wide for his efforts in saving a woman from nearly drowning late last year.

Additionally, Keener also said that the university’s first-ever Ticket to Give Food Drive was a massive success, raising thousands of dollars in both forgiven debt and donated food for the Clayton State community.

Regarding the former event, Keener said that both he and his team responded to an incident in November 2022 in which a young woman ended up in the campus lake behind Edgewater Hall.

“She was unable to swim effectively,” Keener said. “I made a split-second decision, stripped down to my pants and undershirt, and jumped in the lake.”

Keener said by the time he got to her, she was drowning and had already gone under the water.

Fortunately, the incident was not fatal, as the police chief saved her from dying.

“I dived under, got her, pulled her to shore, and my team and I did CPR until medical personnel arrived,” Keener said. “We were lucky that we kept her alive long enough for her to be transported to the hospital for treatment.”

As a reward for his act of service and bravery, Keener was personally honored with the Governor’s Public Safety Award for Acts of Heroism on Friday, December 1, by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

His name will forever be engraved in granite on the Governor’s Award Monument outside the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth.

Keener added that his team also won a Clayton County Valor Award for their actions in the rescue back in September 2023.

But while only his name was engraved, the police chief said it represents everyone on his team who stepped up and made a difference.

“The team we have here at Clayton State University – they’re as dedicated as I am to keeping our campus safe,” Keener said. “Any of my team will put themselves in harm's way to keep our community safe. I like to think that I set a tone for my department in the expectation that that is who we are and that is what we do.”

But for the department’s efforts to help others did not end this year solely on their well-deserved awards.

In November 2023, Chief Keener and the Dept. of Public Safety teamed up with Clayton State’s Division of Student Affairs to bring holiday relief to all on campus in their first-ever Ticket to Give Food Drive.

In what was a part-food drive, part-ticket forgiveness program, all members of Laker Nation who had unpaid parking tickets were permitted to donate up to 200 oz. in non-perishable foods to receive, in exchange, up to $100 in debt forgiveness – $1 forgiven per each 2 oz. of food gifted to the university’s Food Pantry Project.

“We had about 40 individual donors donate a total of 6,300 ounces of food to our local pantry – roughly 20 file boxes full of food,” Keener said.

Financially, Keener said this resulted in just over $3,000 worth of ticket debt forgiveness for those on campus who participated.

In what he called a triumphant success, Keener said that the food drive will now be an annual event held every November moving forward.

Next year, he hopes to double both the food donations and financial forgiveness.

“I'm very pleased that the community I've become part of is so willing to help each other, especially during the holidays, which can be a tough time,” he said.

Keener is beyond proud of both his team’s and community’s efforts to help make a positive difference in the lives of others.

With a new year just on the horizon, he is ready to continue leading his department in 2024 to ensure that all Lakers in need will receive life-changing assistance.

In reflection, Keener said both the rescue and food drive “encapsulate the type of department” he’s trying to build on campus.

“Our philosophy is simple,” Keener said. “We want to be the best department to be policed by in the University System. “I think our service in one incident and our part to help [the community] in the other is a perfect example of what we're building here under our new president and vice presidents.”

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