At 4:50 a.m., Ball State University Police Department (UPD) Lt. David Bell wakes up to his alarm. Before heading to the police station, he gets dressed in Ball State-branded Nike garb and heads to the gym — not to get a workout in for himself, but to work with student-athletes and make them better people.
Bell started his law enforcement career with the Delaware County Department of Corrections. He took advantage of an opening with Ball State UPD in 1998 and has been there ever since.
“One of the things I enjoy the most about policing is helping other people,” Bell said. “Since I have been here, I have had so many opportunities to do that.”
Throughout college, Bell had a passion for art, but he realized making a living from it would require a move to a big city. He didn’t want to make that move considering he had already started a family, Bell said, which was how he forged his path in law enforcement.
However, Bell felt there was more he could do. In 2013, he decided to go back to school to pursue his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and exercise science and take advantage of the free undergraduate education UPD provided.
“I had run out of excuses,” Bell said. “Both of my kids were out of the house. I was pretty much where I wanted to be here at UPD. I woke up one day and said, ‘Why have I not gone back to school yet?’”
The first day he stepped foot on campus — not as a law enforcement member, but as a student — something clicked deep within him.
“I was that student who always sat at the front of the class,” Bell said. “I was asking questions, and I was doing well from the start. It was solely because of this huge interest that I’ve always had.”
After finishing his undergraduate in 2018, Bell took it a step further. He decided to shell out some of his own money and pursue a master’s degree in sports performance.
Like Bell, who recently turned 50, Ball State Director of Public Safety Jim Duckham also went to law school while still a police officer. Duckham said the decision to go back at an older age might seem crazy to some, but Bell’s furthered education has positively translated into the department.
“I think [Bell] has a thirst for knowledge,” Duckham said. “He is really passionate about law enforcement, and he is always passionate about fitness. He has been able to bridge those two things in his career here. With training, he touches everybody that works within the department.”
Bell said he doesn’t need this degree, but he wants it. He has dedicated his entire life to helping others.
“I realized that I am probably going to retire from here, so what is the purpose of furthering my education in something I am successful at?” Bell said. “One thing I was always interested in is fitness. I was always an athlete. Exercise science seemed to fit the best.”
Early into his path, Bell realized he would need an internship to graduate. He applied and got one within the weight room of Worthen Arena, and it was there his love for helping student-athletes blossomed.
Bell joined Ball State Baseball as an assistant strength and conditioning coach in August 2018. He said he had grown fond of the sport ever since he was a child, so staying connected to America’s pastime was a plus. When the head strength and conditioning coach position for Ball State Gymnastics opened up in December 2019, Bell jumped at the opportunity and instantly brought along his charisma.
“He is so happy all the time,” senior gymnast Arden Hudson said. “He is always in a good mood. He is very receptive to what the team says and what we want. Considering our bodies do take a lot of impact, it is kind of nice to have a strength coach that listens to our bodies.”
Head coach Joanna Saleem said it did not take long for Bell to fit right in and establish his presence.
“He is in charge of writing and creating our strength program and then implementing that for our team,” Saleem said. “It is really awesome to have him as a part of our staff. There were a lot of questions in the beginning. He has definitely gained a lot of knowledge.”
During the school year, Bell said, his days are long but fulfilling. After waking up, he works with student-athletes until the department reels him back at 7:30 a.m. for his daily duties. He said he hopes to be home at 5 p.m. most days, but overtime shifts, gymnastics events and anything else that pops up can keep him around later.
“He is going back to school because he wants to do this,” Saleem said. “This is all volunteer for him. He really cares for people, and he is not the type of person to do things halfway.”
Bell said balancing multiple responsibilities isn’t an issue because he prioritizes helping others at any expense.
“In nearly 28 years of law enforcement, I have had a lot of opportunities to help people,” Bell said. “From the seemingly insignificant incidents of putting a smile on someone’s face to the major incidents like saving a life, I have had a lot of opportunities to be in those positions. [With strength coaching], I get a daily opportunity to help someone.”
After retiring from UPD, Bell said, he will look for more strength and conditioning gigs and ways to keep lending a helping hand.
“I’ve always known that just seeing my influence on someone else has always been the ultimate reward,” Bell said. “It is better than money. It is better than anything else. That is what truly makes me happy — just helping others.”