Over the past 10 days, three Public Safety (PSafe) Director finalists have visited campus, participating in open forums with the University community. The three candidates—Dana Perrin, Joe Kirk, and Ken Collamore—were selected from a pool of over 160 applicants by a search committee formed at the end of last semester when former director David Meyer announced his resignation.
Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley, two students, a professor, and a Human Resources representative serve on the search committee. A consultant from The Spelman and Johnson Group, a search and consulting firm that fills positions in higher education, serves as an advisor to the committee. Whaley, who has been a leader in the search process, discussed the three finalists that visited campus this week.
“We thought that each of them was really interesting and had different sorts of qualifications and strengths, and so we wanted to spend more time with them, visit campus, and meet with more people so that we could see who fits and who doesn’t,” Whaley said.
Formerly, PSafe reported directly to Vice President for Finance and Administration John Meerts; now, the office reports to Whaley. President Michael Roth explained the reasoning behind this shift.
“Last year, in listening to the students’ issues with Public Safety, and listening to the response of Public Safety to those issues, I really felt we needed to have more of student life incorporated into the process,” Roth said. “I really thought that we ought to put Public Safety in an environment where students’ concerns would be primary, so I asked [Dean Whaley] if he would be willing to do that.”
Whaley agreed with the decision, noting that the shift would better align PSafe with the student body.
“I think that there are a number of advantages to the change,” he said. “It really puts the Public Safety function in with the whole rest of the services and offices that are here to provide a good and safe experience for students. We hope that when a new director comes in, that they’ll develop a mission statement and specific goals and that those will be very much in line with the kind of mission that we have in Student Affairs.”
A string of incidents involving PSafe officers occurred last year, including theft, voyeurism, and accusations of racial profiling. Roth said that he hopes the new director will be able to improve PSafe’s relationship with the student body.
“We really need to have a better dialogue, especially between students and Public Safety,” Roth said. “…There’s always going to be some tension, because there’s an enforcing dimension when Public Safety gets involved with students breaking rules, but a lot of the time it’s Public Safety helping students. We just want to make sure that there’s enough trust there so that it works well. I think that’s going to be required for the new director.”
Whaley also highlighted the need for a new director who will foster a transparent, communicative environment.
“I’ve been a very strong advocate for folks who know a lot about community policing and have been involved in that type of work,” Whaley said. “Really, that’s about building relationships and working hard at that every day.”
Whaley emphasized that the candidates up for the directorial position are well aware of the problems that they, if selected, will need to address.
“We’ve been pretty up-front with the candidates so that they know, and all of them have addressed in their open forum and during their interview panels how they think about, how they react to, how they would try to move forward from those incidents that happened last year,” Whaley said.
Dana Perrin, who visited campus on Wednesday, Sept. 18, was the first candidate to participate in an open forum. Perrin has worked at the University of Rochester for 28 years. Beginning as an officer, he is now the Assistant Director of Public Safety at the school’s River Campus. Perrin emphasized the importance of building relationships within a community as a first step toward addressing tensions on campus.
“One of the things that I’ve learned is that there is a want for a more community-based model of interaction,” Perrin said. “One of the things I’ve been very successful at is building relationships between departments and staff….The easiest way to have a better professional relationship is to humanize yourself and see others around you humanized, and to have that relationship that they have with you trickle over to the rest of your staff. It makes for a very good solid base.”
Perrin was asked about a number of issues, ranging from racial profiling and sexual assault to relations with Middletown. On the matter of racial profiling, Perrin noted the importance of treating cases on an individual basis. Perrin also commented on how best to maintain a transparent office of Public Safety.
“It has to start at the top,” he said. “There are core values that come with that…. There’s the human resource tactic of getting the right people on the bus, and sometimes it’s hard to get the wrong people off the bus before you get the right people on the bus. One of the core values is that you’re going to treat people as people.”
Additionally, Perrin described specific defects within the University’s public safety department and suggested some possible improvements.
“I think there are some good staff that are here, but unfortunately they’re buried under all the bad stuff,” Perrin said. “I think that because of a lack of transparency and openness within the department and a lack of some basic things like a mission statement, there are certain things that should be in the core base of the department that need to come out first.”
The second candidate to visit campus, Joe Kirk, comes from the College of Wooster in Ohio, where he works as the Associate Director of Security and Protective Services as well as the Director of Greek Life. Kirk stressed his goal of utilizing the knowledge of PSafe staff to benefit the campus.
“I believe very strongly that you have a good staff here,” Kirk said. “We have some issues we need to address…but on the whole, they have their minds in the right place. I think they know what this campus is about. You can’t [work] here for so long, 17 years, 30 years, and not know what this campus is about. And so the community policing model would say that I would tap into their knowledge. I wouldn’t let a new officer come aboard until that officer who has been here and knows what it’s about talks with him, educates him, works with him.”
Kirk also discussed his goal of being an advocate for students and building positive relationships with them.
“I hope that they can see us as people who can fight for their interests,” Kirk said. “If they’re struggling with, say, the safety concerns that they have in their residence, [I hope] that they can come to me or come to our department and talk about those issues. And so they can’t see us as someone who isn’t coming to help them. I am starting that process; I am building that relationship.”
He stressed that he wants to rebuild the trust between PSafe and the student body through individual interactions and a sense of mutual respect.
“My conversation with that student, whether it be at 2 a.m.…or 2 p.m., should not be any different because I don’t want to lose who they are,” Kirk said. “I don’t want to lose what I need and want from them. And I [lose] that if I tick them off at two in the morning, because whether they were drinking or not, they’re going to remember it. And what’s going to wind up happening, is I’ve now lost them as an advocate.”
Ken Collamore, currently the Director of Public Safety at Bennington College, was the final candidate to visit campus on Wednesday, Sept. 25. Collamore compared his experiences at Bennington with the climate he observed during his day at Wesleyan.
“I know last year was a difficult year; I heard that in today’s interactions with people,” Collamore said. “What I did at Bennington is similar to what’s happening here. I got to Bennington and there were similar circumstances. There was a degree of mistrust and concerns regarding Public Safety and what they wanted to do and how to go about doing it. And as I said all day, it is living and breathing connections and relationships with as many people as I encounter with my work that [matter].”
Collamore described his vision of what community policing should look like and said he hopes to build a sense of camaraderie between officers and the community.
“You should never be made to feel that you’ve inconvenienced them in any way,” Collamore said. “Part of what community policing is, is us being grateful to be in the position to help others, and that should come across.”
He stressed the importance of student roles in the community, and how students can aid PSafe in community policing.
“There’s three thousand of you, and that’s three thousand sets of eyes that can participate in keeping the community safe, as simply as calling when a light is broken outside your dorm,” Collamore said. “Or if there’s a blue phone that’s not working or if you have a friend in need. And feeling comfortable and safe in reaching out to Public Safety to help you in whatever you need [is important]. But also helping your friends when we’re not there. No mathematician is needed to know that, you, as students—not to put the burden on you—can take care of the community.”
The search committee for the new Director of PSafe will met on Thursday, Sept. 26 to discuss the three finalists based on its members’ impressions and feedback that Whaley has culled from other attendees at the forums.
“Hopefully we’ll know who our next director is going to be within a couple of weeks,” Whaley said. “We would obviously like them to start as soon as possible, but it depends on how much notice they need to give…. I’m hoping definitely that by the end of this semester we’ll have a new director here and in place.”
After watching all of the candidates present, Public Safety Review Committee member Scott Elias ’14 expressed his satisfaction with the three finalists as well as his belief that the addition of any of them to PSafe’s staff would benefit the community.
“I do think that any of these candidates would rise to the occasion,” Elias said. “What happened last year was a tragedy, and in tragedy there is opportunity, and I really do think that any of these candidates is really qualified to rebuild the image and integrity of the office.”