Bulletin News

SUNY Cortland University Police officers honored


Two SUNY Cortland University Police officers were recognized with 2022 University Police Awards, the SUNY Police Chiefs Association’s highest recognition for campus officers.

The individuals, Officer Melissa Keelhar M ’10 and K9 Officer David Coakley, were honored Nov. 15 for overall professionalism.

“On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of students and employees who meet on our campuses each day, we thank our officers and staff for their service in keeping us safe,” said SUNY Interim Chancellor Deborah F. Stanley.

“I have had the privileged of working with so many collaborative officers throughout my career, and now as their commissioner, I am honored to celebrate them and their work,” said Mary Sullivan Ritayik ’97, University Police commissioner and SUNY Cortland graduate.

Keelhar and Coakley were among 19 University Police personnel who received the Professional Service Award, which recognizes members for acts that greatly enhance the operation of the respective university police departments. Another 14 officers or staff were recognized for their heroic efforts and bravery on campus.

Cortland’s University Police Chief Mark DePaull had praise for both SUNY Cortland officers.

“Officer Keelhar is a wonderful ambassador for our university and is always willing to pitch in for the good of the community,” DePaull said. “Officer Coakley continually enhances our agency’s community policing mission, whether it is just a brief encounter with students or an organized event.”

Officer Melissa Keelhar

Over the past year, Keelhar sought additional training to improve her detection skills for driving while intoxicated (DWI) and impaired driving. Now she routinely leads the department with DWI arrests and vehicle and traffic stops for aggressive driving violations.

“Her diligence and skills have made our roadways safer for everyone,” DePaull said.

Officer Melissa Keelhar M '10

She also participates in the Cortland campus’ DWI prevention and awareness events, letting students try a simulation device called impairment goggles while taking the Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST).

“At these events, Officer Keelhar can be found interacting with the community by showing them the dangers of impaired driving,” DePaull said.

Recognizing her accomplishments, the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Stop DWI-New York and the New York State Governors Traffic Safety Committee presented her with its 2022 Recognition of Excellence Award.

Keelhar shows kindness and generosity when she encounters a person who may be homeless or in need of assistance.

“Officer Keelhar is always the first to sign up for any community outreach program, whether on or off campus,” DePaull said. “Her compassion, empathy and commitment are noticed by those she serves.”

Officer David Coakley

Coakley engages in community outreach with his K9 partner, a male German shorthair pointer, “Red,” who joined the officer in 2019 as the university’s first police canine.

Over the last year, Coakley has fine-tuned SUNY Cortland’s relatively young K9 program and has expanded his training and knowledge regarding explosive detection. Red has been trained to detect signs of explosive devices.

Officer David Coakley

“He continually networks and trains with local and university police agencies and routinely responds to calls for assistance on campus and in the surrounding community,” DePaull said.

“Officer Coakley has established himself as a solid law enforcement partner with his fellow K9 handlers and he is willing to go above and beyond to support others in the field,” DePaull said.

Officer Coakley also has shown commitment to bettering the department’s resources, opportunities, policies and training.

“He has enhanced the overall safety of the campus and contributed significantly to our community policing mission.”