After the arrests of two Public Safety (PSafe) officers last May, and in response to student complaints throughout the 2012-13 academic year, the University continues its review and reform of the PSafe office.
In May, two PSafe officers were accused of video-taping a student in her residence. This incident, as well an incident involving a former PSafe officer charged with larceny, was covered by The Middletown Patch and The Middletown Press and prompted the blog In The ’Cac to publish an article titled “Wesleyan’s Public Safety Nightmare.”
“Students are in uproar over the number of P-safe alerts that have been necessitated this year,” the article in In The ’Cac read. “It is unfathomable that the very people hired to protect the students are being arrested and accused left and right for abuse, theft, and voyeurism.”
April’s incident prompted the immediate firing of the two officers involved, Richard Hodge and Michael Anderson. According to an article published by The Middletown Patch, the officers had been watching one female student on campus for over a year. Middletown Police also unearthed crude text messages between the two officers discussing various female students on campus. Anderson, who was charged with dissemination of voyeuristic material, pleaded not guilty in July, while Hodge obtained a court continuance to enter his plea on Sept. 26, weeks after his plea was originally due.
Scott Elias, a member of the Public Safety Review Committee (PSRC), a recently formed group comprised of both administrators and students, discussed the committee’s role.
“We were making recommendations [for things PSafe] should do, and then they weren’t doing them, and then more problems were happening, and so we were making more recommendations,” Elias said. “That’s sort of why they created the Public Safety [Review] Committee–because if you have administrators on the committee as opposed to just students, there’s more power behind it.”
The search committee for a new PSafe Director consists of two students; a professor; a Human Resources representative; and Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley. A consultant from The Spelman and Johnson Group, a search firm that assists with filling positions in higher education, is advising the committee.
The search committee hopes to conclude its search for a new Director of PSafe within the semester; the position was vacated by Dave Meyer, who retired this summer. The position is temporarily being filled by PSafe Associate Director Tony Bostick.
“We’ve been in consultation with a search consultant company that is reviewing a certain amount of applicants,” said Elias, who is also a member of the search committee. “We [are] looking at the applicants [and] trying to find out which is the most qualified, especially in light of some of the concerns that were raised last year.”
Last spring saw the beginning of an external review of PSafe, conducted by Margolis Healey & Associates. According to Whaley, this review is nearly complete.
“We sent an alert to the community last spring when we became aware of the [voyeurism] case,” Whaley wrote in an email to The Argus. “That statement indicated that the officers were immediately terminated and that my office had reached out to the student who was impacted.”
Whaley explained that he expects to receive the results of the review soon.
The review was partly a result of incidents on campus that brought into question the breadth of PSafe’s power. One particularly controversial incident occurred in October 2012, when Paulie Lowther ’13 was allegedly assaulted by PSafe officers in the Freeman Athletic Center during Hurricane Sandy. An investigation led by former Vice President for Institutional Partnerships and Chief Diversity Officer Sonia Mañjon and Human Resources found that the officers did not act out of hostility, but the University ordered additional training for PSafe officers. Elias explained that this has been taken into account during the search for a new director.
“I want someone who is going to be transparent,” he said. “There were issues with whether or not we should be publishing protocols and policies, especially after the incident that happened during Hurricane Sandy. That sort of created this gray area where it was like, ‘What can PSafe do and what can’t PSafe do?’”
Elias expressed his hopes for the new director and for the reformation of PSafe as a whole.
“Hopefully we’ll find someone who can rebuild the relationship between the student body and PSafe,” Elias said. “In light of what happened last year between the voyeurism, the alleged racial profiling, and whether or not PSafe is allowed to use force, there’s just increasing skepticism in the student body. [It’s] not just an image thing, but I think they have to be very proactive in making sure they can restore dignity to their office.”
The online version of this article was updated on September 5 to correct the distinction between the Public Safety Review Committee (PSRC), the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), and the search committee for a new Director of Public Safety. Scott Elias ’14 is the former chair of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), an ad-hoc committee of the Wesleyan Student Assembly. Elias now serves on the Public Safety Review Committee (PSRC) and the search committee for the new Public Safety director. The article incorrectly reported that PSAC consists of two students, a professor, a Human Resources representative, Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley, and a consultant from The Spelman and Johnson Group. Actually, the Public Safety search committee for a new director—not PSAC—consists of two students, a professor, a Human Resources representative, and Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley, and a consultant from The Spelman and Johnson Group serves as an advisor to the committee.