"If you want your neighborhood back 'the way it used to be,' you have to take it back yourself."

Penn Police Officer Nickol Taylor is the first of what she and police officials hope is a long blue line of SpectaGuard patrol people who decide to get serious about fighting crime.

Photo by Mark Louis


Officer, University of Pennsylvania Police Department
Length of service:
Two weeks
Other stuff:
Her training has stimulated her interest in the law, which she plans to study further.

They look like police officers. They walk beats like police officers. They deter crime like police officers. So why not make them police officers? That was the thinking behind the Penn Police Department's decision last summer to actively recruit new officers from the ranks of the SpectaGuard security patrols that walk the streets just west of the campus.

They got to Nickol Taylor just in time. A SpectaGuard employee for one-and-a-half years, Taylor enjoyed her work patrolling University City and had applied for an opening with the Philadelphia Police Department when Penn recruiters came calling in mid-September.

In attitude and in temprament, Taylor, who began her new job April 21, is well-suited for her new job as a Penn police officer. The West Philly resident is serious about fighting crime both on and off the job, and she enjoys the close contact with the community that is essential to effective police work. We caught up with Taylor as she was finishing her orientation session at Penn Police headquarters, and she took time out to talk about how she decided to make the move and the training she underwent as a new recruit.

Q. Was a police career on your mind when you signed up as a SpectaGuard?
No. When I first signed up, I was more like a desk officer. When I came to Penn, I was outside, walking the beat, and that made me want to become a police officer, because I felt like I was

basically already doing that. I just didn't have the police officer training and other things that I could do to become a police officer.

Q. What sorts of things were you expected to do on the walking patrol? I know a little about what the patrols are supposed to do, but maybe you could give me more of a street-level view.
From the community's view, what we did for them was deter crime. When criminals or bad people would come into the area, there were so many SpectaGuards out there -- they're everywhere -- it kind of deters crime. And that's not counting the Penn police and Philly police that are out there.

Q. When did you finally decide that you wanted to go whole hog and become a full-fledged police officer?
In September. At the beginning of last September, I had filled out an application for Philadelphia. About the middle of September, I was approached to be with the Penn police by SpectaGuard and the Penn police. I went ahead with the Penn police, and while I was in the Police Academy -- I started in the Police Academy October 9 -- Philadelphia responded and asked me to come to the Police Academy.

Q. You train at the Philadelphia Police Academy even if you are training for a Penn position, right?

Q. What's involved in the Police Academy course?
A lot of law courses. We have law credits when we graduate. Physical training, firearms training. But it's 95 percent law.

Q. Regarding what? Arrest procedures...?
Everything -- arrests, civil rights, the rights of the public, the rights of the officer, everything. There's so much.

Q. Had you expected that there would be this much law?
No. I thought that maybe it would be 50 percent -- just the basics, like people's rights, what you can and can't do [as an officer]. I never thought it would be that much. It was a lot. Jeez, a lot.

Q. Was the training particularly grueling? If you spend a lot of time with the law, it sounds like there's less time for the sort of physically demanding things that I'd associate with being a cop.
I think both of these go hand in hand, because you have to know what your limitations are physically and what you can do through the law. So when we got to the training, we would have [physical] training maybe two or three days a week for the whole five-and-a-half month duration that I was there. And it wasn't that bad. I hear a lot of people complain about the Police Academy, and it was quite an experience, but it was a good experience. The people there -- the instructors are really great, they really take the time to help you.

Q. Will you be working with the Philly police at all as a Penn cop?
Yes, they work together down here, and I know a lot of Philly officers. I've seen some since I've been down here, and they work hand in hand. They tell me everything, you know -- "We'll be here for you, if you need anything, just call..."

Q. Did any of your other fellow SpectaGuards apply for police openings?
I know a few that have [applied to the Philadelphia police], and I know a few that have applied for Penn. A lot of people feel that -- a lot of people would like to continue what they're doing, but just take it a step further. They're out there walking, they're doing their job, and they feel as though they could do a police officer's job. So they just want to take it a step further, just to further themselves.

Q. Any tips or advice for the people whose neighborhood you'll patrol based on your experience there so far? How can they make your job easier?
Just keep their eyes and ears open, and be more discreet about their money transactions. Keep your items close to you.

A lot of people here, they get kind of lax, they're really comfortable with counting their money in the street and doing a lot of different things. The security here is good, the policing here is good, basically, the community works together well, but they definitely need to concentrate on what they do personally. I think that helps a lot.

Originally published on April 30, 1998