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February 23, 2004

A role model on patrol

From: Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - Feb 23, 2004

A legally deaf officer makes a difference on RIT's campus.

By Greg Livadas
Staff writer

(February 23, 2004) — HENRIETTA — On a typical shift, Tony Wallace responds to alarms, assists motorists who are locked out and cracks down on speeders.

He'll patrol parking lots and walk inside dorm hallways just to make sure everything is fine. People feel safer with the presence of a uniform.

"Visibility is so important, especially somebody in my position," said Wallace, 26. A former Rochester Institute of Technology student and All-American wrestling star, he's also the only deaf campus safety officer at RIT.

Born with spinal meningitis that affected his hearing, Wallace doesn't hear high-pitched noises. But he insists there is nothing he can't do. He normally wears two hearing aids and reads lips well. He has gotten used to dispatchers' voices well enough to use his radio rather than a text pager.

His outgoing personality and communication versatility — he speaks fluently in English and sign language — makes him a valuable asset to the college: More than 1,100 of RIT's 15,300 students have a hearing loss; most attend the college's National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

"Our campus population recognizes NTID is part of the university system," said Bob Craig, RIT's director of campus safety.

"Our students think that makes perfect sense" to have a deaf campus safety officer. Five others with hearing loss work as part-time student patrol officers.

The only position Wallace hasn't been given is a dispatching job, but his deafness "is not an issue," Craig said.

"The talents that he brings far outweigh that. He brings an incredible enthusiasm to the position."

Wallace has also been asked to help instruct new recruits in police academies to help increase deaf awareness.

Back on campus, some students consider campus safety officers, who have no arresting powers but can write speeding and parking tickets, something akin to a Barney Fife.

"We've been called hall monitors," Wallace said. "We're not just security guards. People have no idea the work that we do, the sense of security we provide."

After patrolling parking lots looking for cars with broken windows or missing license plates on a recent February day, "35" — that's Wallace's badge number — received a call at 12:37 p.m. to take a harassment report at the Student Life Center.

Inside, Jackie Liu smiled and pointed at Wallace: "I remember you. You came to my apartment for the popcorn fire."

After taking her report, Wallace drove by student apartments and saw "RIT LAX" painted outside one apartment in large white letters, a tribute to the school's lacrosse team.

"That looks ridiculous, but kids will be kids," he said.

He knows about immaturity. Wallace admits struggling for a time in school, getting into trouble and being kicked out "for a little bit of everything" including a 1.0 grade point average.

After a lecture from his father, Gary, a lieutenant in the Franklin, Ohio, police department, and campus safety officers at RIT, Wallace straightened up, did well in school and learned to be responsible. Now he wants to be a role model to others.

"People make mistakes," he said. "But people guided me. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here today. And that's exactly what I want to do for kids now."

Wallace, who lives in Greece with his fiancée, Stefanie Aiello, also works as RIT's assistant wrestling coach.

At 3 p.m., Wallace went to the east side of campus, where NTID is located. Inside Mark Ellingson Hall, known as Tower A, are 12 floors of dormitories. It is the tallest building on campus.

Sometimes there are roommate disputes, violations of the school's no-alcohol policy or illnesses to deal with. But on this day, he was riding to the top floor to take a look at the campus below. "It's absolutely so beautiful up here," Wallace said.

At 3:25 p.m., he was in his car in a parking lot looking for speeders.Soon, he activated his car's red emergency lights and pulled over a violator. The driver was a 26-year-old graduate who is deaf. Wallace clocked her car at 48 mph, well over the 30 mph limit.

"You need to slow down," he told her in sign language and then walked back to his patrol car with her driver's license. She didn't know it, but he forgot his ticket book this day, so she was about to get off with a warning.

"You have to let them think about it," he said in his car before talking to the driver again. "If you tell them this is a warning at first, they wouldn't learn their lesson."

Between calls, Wallace can park his patrol car and do reports on a laptop computer. Several areas of the RIT campus allow wireless Internet connections.

Wallace has proved he can do his job as well as a hearing officer, and he wouldn't mind following his father's footsteps by working in a police agency. "If an opportunity opened up to get into a police department, I would look into it very, very seriously," Wallace said. "If not, I'd be more than happy to spend my career here. I love it."

Copyright 2004 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.