Kennesaw Police Department ‘Very Proud’ of Its Relationship with Piedmont University
Asked to describe his department’s relationship with Piedmont University, Kennesaw Police Chief Bill Westenberger responds with a question of his own:
“Do you like to go fishing?”
Noting the puzzled reaction to his question, he continues:
“When you find a good fishing hole, you’re really excited, and you want to keep it a secret. That’s how I feel about Piedmont.”
KPD employs 68 sworn police officers, six of whom are Piedmont University alumni, all hired within the last few years.
“Welcome to the Piedmont University Kennesaw satellite campus,” an officer joked when told of the premise for this article.
All joking aside, KPD and Piedmont share a special relationship that grows deeper with every new hire. It’s a relationship that has much to do with Erin Bright, who graduated from Piedmont in 2017 with her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. After beginning her career as a patrol officer, Bright transitioned into the role of recruiter. She now spends a good deal of her time attending college fairs, visiting college campuses, and speaking to students interested in careers in law enforcement.
From the age of 3, Bright dreamed of becoming a police officer, inspired by her aunt, who worked for a department out west.
“When I was little, whenever I would see a police officer, I’d get so excited and run up to them,” she said.
“Becoming a cop is always what I wanted to do.”
After her father passed away, Bright changed her ambitions to nursing, but quickly returned to her early career decision. Growing up in Newnan, Georgia, she’d attended small, tight-knit elementary and middle schools, and when it came time to select a college, she was looking for a similar environment. She found it at Piedmont.
“There’s very much a family feel at Piedmont,” she said.
It turns out, attending Piedmont was ideal preparation for working at KPD, a smaller police department that defines itself by camaraderie and a sense of family among both civilian and sworn employees. That’s one of the reasons Bright likes to recruit from Piedmont. The students who are attracted to Piedmont are likely to fit in well at KPD, she said.
Such was the case with new recruit Chase Goff, who graduated in May 2022 with his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Goff began his college career as an engineering major, but he changed it after meeting Forensic Science and Criminal Justice Professor Bruce Willis and Political Science Professor Tony Frye. Willis is a former special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and a criminal investigations coordinator with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. Frye is a longtime professor, co-chair of the Department of Social Sciences, and pre-law advisor.
“They have so much professional experience, and when they teach, they’re able to share real-life situations that go beyond the book,” said Goff.
At Piedmont, where he played lacrosse, Goff developed close friendships with his teammates, as well as meaningful relationships with classmates who came from a variety of backgrounds.
“At Piedmont, it’s small, but you still get experience with a lot of different cultures,” Goff said.
The ability to see situations from different perspectives, communicate effectively, and find common ground with people are vital skills in modern policing, Westenberger said. His Piedmont-trained recruits possess exactly those capabilities.
He recalled a local protest in response to the killing of George Floyd in 2020.
Bright and another early-career officer took the time to talk with a few of the demonstrators, to understand their points of view and share their own in a calm, constructive manner that, he’s certain, had a lasting effect on police-civilian relations.
“They handled it much more effectively that I probably could have. A lot of older officers might have gotten frustrated and walked away,” Westenberger said.
“In my heart of hearts, I believed they help the demonstrators see the other side, the side behind the badge.”
New recruits bring valuable insights to the job that make Westenberger excited for the future not just of his own department but for the field of law enforcement.
Piedmont University is doing its part to provide the talent law enforcement agencies need today — and tomorrow, Westenberger said.
“I’m very proud of the relationship we have with Piedmont.”
Piedmont University’s Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice degree program is available both in person and online. Learn more at piedmont.edu/criminal-justice.