Though many students may know Community Relations Sergeant Sean Ryder by his trademark cape and sparkly pants, he sat down with The Daily Princetonian in full police uniform. Famous for his orientation skits, Sergeant Ryder has spent 13 years at the University’s Department of Public Safety (PSAFE).
When did Sergeant Ryder first dream of becoming a police officer? Growing up in the United Kingdom, Ryder’s interest was piqued by some of his school friends who joined the police force. Good cop drama shows didn’t hurt either. Ryder joined the police force in England in the early 1990s, experiencing everything from inner city to rural police work. After his wife’s career obliged his family to relocate to Princeton, N.J., Ryder never thought he’d put on a uniform again.
“I'd had a great ride in the U.K., and frankly I wasn't looking to replicate that — I never could,” he explained.
But in the early 2000s, when his new neighbor in Princeton encouraged him to apply for Princeton University’s police force, he thought, why not? He recalled no campus police departments existing in the U.K. The role intrigued him.
Initially, Ryder was looking to connect with a group of people who shared similar experiences. He saw PSAFE as a social outlet, and he was willing to volunteer for it. By coincidence, the department was hiring and asked him to apply. Thirteen years later, he has become integral to the University community.
On a typical day, Ryder comes in at around 6:30 a.m., catches up with the overnight supervisor, gets a sense of the day ahead, and briefs the other officers, placing them across campus for effective coverage. Officers typically work eight or 12 hour rotations, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They report for duty on Christmas and New Year.
“[The] University doesn’t suddenly disappear when the students leave,” Ryder said.
Ryder described Princeton’s campus as a mini-city — whatever can happen in a city can also happen within the Orange Bubble. PSAFE officers respond to anything on campus, ranging from reports of crime (such as theft, harassment, domestic violence, and assault), motor vehicle accidents, first aid and medical emergencies, transport for community members, and so on.
But Ryder far exceeds just these responsibilities. He makes continuous efforts to break down barriers between PSAFE officers and the student body.
“We have to be very conscious that we’re dealing with a lot of different cultures on this campus. Big international student body. The police in different countries are interpreted differently, so I’m very much aware of that as well,” he noted.
Whether through meals or study breaks, Ryder interacts with students as much as possible.
Looking for a better get to know him? Try challenging Ryder to a game of pool. He claimed to be “open to the challenge if any readers want to lay down the gauntlet.”
At the start of his time on campus, during one of his night rotations, Ryder hoped to break the ice with students at a Forbes late-night study session. He offered to play a game of pool as a study break. It led to long-lasting bonds; today, students eagerly invite him to catch up over meals and coffee.
Now, Ryder is a prominent figure on campus through his involvement in the first-year orientation program. Nine years ago, Paul Ominsky, Assistant Vice President of Public Safety, approached Ryder to enlist his help on how to make the PSAFE presentation more engaging.
“He rose to the challenge by enlisting Triangle Club, the Princeton Ballet, and other University student groups to deliver important safety messages in a fun and more realistic way. I think just about every student knows Sean from these programs, with his flashy orange-spangled uniform pants and his cape,” said Ominsky.
Vice President of Triangle Club Michele Montas spoke highly of working with Ryder, calling the experience a “highlight at Princeton.”
“He never fails to make it an incredibly fun and engaging time for the freshmen in the audience, Triangle, and the other public safety officers. After directing the show, I am so privileged to call him a true friend of mine.”
Ryder hopes to make himself accessible, so that students going through rough patches know they may contact him if they need someone to go to.
“I have a daughter who is in her final year of college,” Ryder explained. “I would like to think there is someone there for her, if she needed a shoulder to lean on while away from home.”