Patrol commander blazes a trail for women in law enforcement

March 16, 2022
Simmons sitting on a yellow chair that's been turned around. She is in front of the MUSC public safety building
MUSC Public Safety Patrol Commander Maj. Dorothy Simmons sits on the Charleston Medical District Greenway just outside of her office. Photos by Sarah Pack

When it comes to taking care of people and ensuring people’s safety on MUSC’s sprawling 82-acre campus, Maj. Dorothy Simmons is your woman. 

According to her colleagues, for 33 years, Simmons has been a model of integrity, dependability, leadership and dedication within MUSC’s Department of Public Safety (DPS), where since September of 2014, she has served as patrol commander – No. 2 in command.

Simmons has championed Public Safety’s mission throughout her storied career, assuring a safe, orderly and secure environment for patients, students, visitors, faculty and staff alike. She joined MUSC as a state security officer in 1988 when the department was a branch of a joint public safety office serving both MUSC and the College of Charleston. 

“I’m a people person and love meeting and helping others – it’s the best part of my job.”


Major Dorothy Simmons

Simmons patrolled on foot for two years, supporting basic campus safety and security – responding to campus emergencies and providing support to those affected. Once the department broke away to form its own force, Simmons rose through the ranks and earned her stripes – from patrol corporal to patrol commander.  She was the first woman in the department’s history ever to reach a command-level rank. 

Despite their successes and accomplishments, women like Simmons, who work in a man’s world, don’t always make the headlines or get the public recognition they so richly deserve. This is one reason that every year during Women’s History Month, MUSC recognizes women throughout the organization who stand out because of the significant differences they make every single day. This year, Simmons is being included for her leadership, commitment and ability to safeguard and protect the community and department she serves.

The DPS consists of 61 sworn police officers, security specialists, telecommunications specialists and administrative support staff – a team that she’s proud of and helps to manage. 

“I’m a people person and love meeting and helping others – it’s the best part of my job,” said Simmons. “I also love working with the officers through mentorship, teaching and collaboration and seeing them grow in their positions and jobs. I give credit to the good support system we’ve built and the teamwork within our department.”

DPS director and chief Kevin Kerley could not be prouder of Simmons’ achievements and her contributions to the department.

“Dorothy has been an asset to our department and the entire university. It’s a testament to her abilities, dedication and work ethic. She’s climbed to the top of the department from humble beginnings and has done an excellent job,” he said.

Simmons has also been key in honing and maintaining campus and interagency relationships, Kerley explained, as well as professional partnerships in various external agencies. These connections allow officers to collaborate and work with federal, state, county and municipal law enforcement efforts and joint investigations. 

“Dorothy ensures that anyone who visits our campus has a safe and enjoyable time. We consider our work in the Department of Public Safety to be 100% customer service-based, and Dorothy takes the lead on that. Her focus is to ensure people feel safe, and that we provide the best customer service for everyone,” Kerley said.

After three decades, she’s been front and center responding to and managing numerous events that affected campus – from Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and 9/11 in 2001, to the Emanuel 9 shootings in 2015. 

Simmons exiting public safety building with man behind her. Both are smiling 
Lt. Daniel Schultz, MUSC Public Safety, left, and Simmons, walk out of the office.

She also helped in important department milestones, such as the adoption of the Jeanne Clery Act in 1990, which requires U.S. institutions of higher education to publish a public disclosure of campus security policies and an annual crime statistics report, in addition to leading the national accreditation of the department with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies in 2002. 

“Meeting accreditation standards helped us as a department,” said Simmons. “It provides guidance to our officers of best practices in the industry and outlines what our officers can and cannot do.”

Managing the department during the COVID-19 pandemic and global incidents of racial and social unrest also presented challenges. The department’s approach emphasized personal wellness among officers and personnel. She knew it was a stressful time and would regularly call and check on officers to offer help and support. Later, her team thanked her for doing that. 

“I wanted our officers to know that I care about what’s going on with them and their families outside of work,” said Simmons, who is affectionately called “mom” by her officers and staff. “It’s not the big things one can do; it’s the small things that count.”

Among her many duties, she’s most proud of the recruitment and retention of public safety officers. In earlier days, she was among few females working in the department, and oftentimes, stood alone as the lone female patrol officer. While these have proved to be tough times in terms of recruiting men or women into law enforcement, the department is slowly making progress. Recently, Simmons recruited seven new female officers, out of a field of 45 candidates, and they are currently waiting to begin training at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Once training is complete, recruits will join the DPS ranks as state-certified law enforcement officers. 

Simmons advocates involvement among professional law enforcement organizations, and is training department rank officers to serve as mentors to help guide young officers throughout their careers. 

But even with the amount of responsibility she bears at MUSC, there’s much more to Simmons than just her job. Even as a child growing up in the East Cooper area, Simmons seemed destined to lead. The eldest of 13 children, she was surrounded by strong role models – relatives both male and female.

She attended local schools and ran track for Wando High School. She attended Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina and played softball and participated in Army ROTC and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and minor in accounting, before returning home to the Lowcountry. 

Over the years, Simmons and her husband, David K. Simmons Sr., added daughters Monique and Tiffany; son, David Jr.; plus 12 grandchildren to their family. 

Ever the nurturer, Simmons has plans to retire from MUSC in June. “Mom” hopes to fulfill her dream to travel, volunteer and help out with her church and with the grandkids. 

Public Safety administrative colleague Jennie Sirisky has worked with Simmons for the past 20-plus years. 

“Having Dorothy – Maj. Simmons – as patrol commander has been very good for the department and campus. She’s diligent, dedicated, caring and compassionate to all the officers. She cares about them and all the Public Safety personnel and others on campus. She’s always busy checking on things and people to ensure that all is right. Dorothy’s a faith-filled woman who’s active with her church, her community and family. She’s just amazing, and I will miss her,” said Sirisky.