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Columbia VAHCS Top Cop' brings change, empowerment to police service line

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MARCOA Media
Story by Jennifer Scales on 09/17/2019
In the beginning

Michael Schausten, like most little boys of a certain age and era, always wanted to be a policeman.

Born in the city of Ludwigsburg, located north of Stuttgart, Germany, he is now at the top of his dream as the Veterans Affairs Chief of Police for the Columbia VA Health Care System.

His path to reach his childhood dream began when he enlisted in the United States Army Signal Corps with stateside assignments which included Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Augusta, Ga. After military was complete, he continued his visions with the Augusta (Georgia) Police Department, moving up the ranks by way of motorcycle patrol, traffic control and the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team.

In the mid-90's, Schausten took another step in his career with a position at the Veterans Affairs in Augusta, starting as a GS-5.

Soon afterwards, the Beckley, West Virginia Veterans Affairs selected him in a position where he was mentored by leadership who were in place at the time there: G. P. Hussen and Karen McGraw.

"I credit my knowledge that I gained and carry with me to this day to both of them," Schausten said.

Fast forward to July 2010

Schausten began another facet of his policeman's dream at the Columbia VAHCS.

"My goal was to build the small police force here into one with structure and essence, all the while protecting and providing a viable team of officers for the staff and Veterans at this facility," Schausten said.

The task at the time was beginning to be a daunting one, as the police presence was not recognized as the actual law enforcement of the facility, possibly because of persons just not understanding what the police force could handle. Schausten's goal and intent was to develop the force to be empowered to uphold their respective police tasks, while also being able to make independent decisions on their own.

In addition to a people-structured change, the same had to be done for some of the aging equipment that was on station.

"The stand-alone cameras did not have a maintenance agreement, the personal panic alarm was outdated, and much of the equipment required for the law enforcement was dated for the 80's and 90's," Schausten said.

With money Schausten requested and received for improvements, the LYNX alarm was ordered and placed on every laptop while the once 12 cameras on site were increased to over 400 with state-of-the-art capabilities.

"Cameras we have on hand now monitor almost all of the foot traffic, which includes hallways and waiting areas," Schausten said.

According to Schausten, many of the changes have been made because the PENTAD at the Columbia VAHCS has a pro-security' mindset. This makes it much better for the empowerment' goal to also be realized amongst the police officers of the Columbia VAHCS.

Sharing a kindred connection

Unlike some VA police officers throughout the nation, the ones at the Columbia VAHCS shares a commonality with each other and Veterans.

"We are all Veterans," Schausten said. "We understand our Veterans and their issues and what they may be going through, as we have stood in their shoes when we served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guardactive, Reserve, and National Guard. Through our team efforts, we can find someone to help them."

Many also come from a law enforcement background, whether it was municipal, state or federal.

Once they are selected for the VA police staff, they can look forward to a 10-week training program at the Law Enforcement Training Center in Little Rock, Ark., followed by senior mentor training back at the VA site.

Armed training continues on a monthly and quarterly basis which includes ground fighting, pistol and long gun qualifications, kneeling, prone, standing, baton training, handcuffing, etc.

Marine Corps Veteran Rodney Sutphin brings his military police background to the position he holds at the Columbia VAHCS, in addition to following Schausten from West Virginia.

"Chief Schausten sets the standard for all chiefs to follow," Sutphin said. "I was mentored by him in West Virginia, and in my opinion, he set the bar so high, many just won't be able to reach it."

Sutphin recalls an incident that occurred in the canteen area recently. "There was an elderly couple who were obviously unable to pay for the food they ordered," Sutphin began. "The wife decided she would put her food back so that her husband could eat and drink. Chief stepped right in and said, Ma'am just get whatever you wantget a plate for both of youI'll pay for it.' And that is just the kind of man our chief is."

Schausten said he is very proud of the individuals in his service line. "I try to surround myself with like minded people who have the same visions and goals that I have. However, we should not be afraid of stepping out and making bold decisionsthat's where our empowerment steps into play."

An example of empowerment came into action when an observant VA policeman observed a visitor on the grounds with an unauthorized animal escort. From a photo that had been circulated among the VA police force, he was recognized as someone who had a restraining placed on him. When the VA police subsequently searched the suspect's vehicle, they found a stash of loaded weapons which could have proven to be a devastating event had not the policeman been observant.

According to Schausten, teamwork, the use of the updated camera system, and best police practice 101 made this situation a successful outcome. "A couple of years ago, we would never have been able to do that," Schausten said.

Staffing matters

VA police dispatcher Joye Tisdale is a Sumter native and Army Veteran who monitors a 12-hour tour of visuals around the Columbia VAHCS. From her vantage point, she can observe various areas inside and outside around the medical center.

"During my shift and from my station here, I can send out the message for all emergencies, which are activated through the LYNX system," Tisdale said. "Officers are dispatched and on scene within minutes."

She also enjoys the camaraderie between her fellow VA police. "We have a family atmosphere," Tisdale said. "We are like big brothers and sisters to each other and we look after one another."

Chicago native Matthew Moressi, an Army Veteran who was a military policeman, has been with the Columbia VAHCS for nearly nine months.

"When I got out of the military, I wanted to continue serving those who served," Moressi said. "What better way to do it than to give service to the Veterans Affairs."

Air Force Veteran and Lisbon, New York native Christopher Paxton, is the training officer for the Columbia VAHCS police. "I'm making sure that our staff is up to date on all facets of training, whether it be month-to month, recertification's, or enrollment at LETC in Arkansas," Paxton said.

Calvin Rascoe, Windsor, N.C. native and 21-year VA police employee, has been here since he retired from Fort Jackson, S.C. As the supervisory training officer, he oversees all training for the Columbia VAHCS police.

"Police employees have to complete 23.5 hours of training in 14 days here on site," Rascoe said. "They may learn aspects of police work as it relates to Veterans Affairs, which they just did not undergo in their former jobs."

When it comes down to the leadership of Chief Schausten, Rascoe echoes the sentiments of all those who were asked in his service line.

"We are a family and we have strong leadership under Chief Schausten," Rascoe said. "He's caring and is knowledgeable in all area of police work. He is our brotherhe is our fatherI would follow him where ever he goes. It's just wonderful to be around people you enjoy working with every day, and Chief is a huge part of that enjoyment."

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