The University recently posted on its website an executive summary of a full external review of the Office of Public Safety (PSafe) that was conducted by consulting company Margolis Healy & Associates. The nine-page report listed recommendations for PSafe that included actively seeking accreditation through a law enforcement agency, planning an annual Public Safety Summit, and standardizing uniforms and logos across campus.
One of the key recommendations was the reconstitution of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), which currently consists of members of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA), two non-WSA students, and the Director of PSafe.
“We recommend the reconstitution of the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) to build and foster positive relationships with key campus stakeholders including but not limited to: student affairs, judicial affairs, residential life/housing, legal counsel, risk management, student government, and athletics,” the report reads.
Scott Elias ’14 was the co-chair of PSAC during the 2012-2013 school year. He hopes to see the new committee composed of more students from different areas of student life, as well as faculty and staff.
“By bringing in more stakeholders and in particular people from student life, you’re giving more legitimacy to the body,” Elias said. “…We’ve already seen that starting to happen. Once we had the Public Safety Review Committee come on board, we were able to use an institutional push to update the website and put up pictures of the bios of all the officers, which is something I had been trying to do and for whatever reason just wasn’t a priority.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley agreed with Elias and intends for the new committee to be responsible for the PSafe reforms until a new director is hired.
“We’ll take the executive summary that was posted online, and we’ll move through it and see what are the highest priority items, what do we move on first and start talking about issues,” Whaley said. “I had really hoped that a new director would really lead this work. But since the search is still going on, we felt like we couldn’t keep waiting, like we needed to start working on some of the most critical of the recommendations now.”
The report also recommended that the University make efforts to improve relations between PSafe and the Middletown Police Department (MPD) officers. According to Whaley, that relationship has been exclusively between the Director of PSafe and the MPD Chief of Police.
“In the absence of the director, I think more people in Public Safety have been developing relationships with more people at the Middletown Police Department,” Whaley said. “I think it’s definitely the case that it’s important for the director to have a very good relationship with the Chief of Police. But I think those other relationships can also be very, very useful.”
Interim Director of PSafe Tony Bostick commented on the office’s relationship with the MPD.
“We work closely with them now, and we have a pretty good relationship already,” Bostick said. “The thing with them is that they have a lot of turnover, as far as having people leaving and having new officers. So it’s basically [us] getting to know the new officers and them getting used to Wesleyan, how Wesleyan takes care of things. We’re already trying to establish that relationship a little bit better.”
The review committee also recommended that the University create several positions in PSafe for dispatchers in addition to the existing field officer positions. Dispatchers are in charge of keeping track of field units, responding to emergency calls, and keeping records, among other tasks. Two dispatchers have been hired, though the University hopes to eventually fill five positions.
Whaley explained that officers are currently being pulled in to fill the empty dispatcher positions, but he doesn’t believe that this is the most effective strategy.
“It doesn’t really make sense to pull your officers out of that role so that they’re dispatching because the skill sets are different,” Whaley said. “I think that we need officers that have good skill sets actually out in the field where they expect to be. Some of our officers are really great officers, but they may not be so great with technology, which is something really important on the dispatch function. I want to keep the officers that we have out patrolling, building relationships in the community, out there doing that good work that they do.”
The report’s recommendations are designed in part to help the office create a positive image on campus. Elias said he believes that this can begin before a new director is hired and that an important aspect of this change is to integrate PSafe into the community.
“I think we definitely need to start looking into the groundwork,” Elias said. “…I think now a lot of students look at PSafe and think of them as a police officer. We can organize more events where you see the officers more as people instead of just a man or a woman in a uniform, and that’s definitely something we can definitely start on right away…. They’re there not just to end parties but to help you clear out a party if things are getting too unmanageable or things of that sort.”
According to Whaley, this new image will focus on community policing, and the University hopes to hire someone with experience to fill the director position in order to help emphasize this goal.
“In a new director, we’re really looking for someone with expertise in community policing, and the way that I think of that is relationship building,” Whaley said. “You are interacting with the community on a pretty regular basis, getting to know the members of the community—this is students, faculty, and staff. That is a constant effort…. You see a broader landscape and a broader context because there has been some investment in building a relationship and really being engaged with the community.”
Though he expects the reforms to take several years of work, Whaley is hopeful that they will be able to improve relations between PSafe and students, faculty, and staff.
“There’s interest both within Public Safety and among students and across the University to have a really well-functioning department that inspires the truth and confidence of all segments of our community and that engages everybody on our campus towards the goal of keeping us all safe and secure,” Whaley said. “Really, this has to be a community endeavor that starts with Public Safety but that inspires the involvement of everyone, because that’s where we’ll have the most chance of being successful in keeping people safe.”
Elias expressed a similar sentiment and added that these efforts will require continued attention and dedication throughout the University.
“After tragedy after tragedy last year that really destroyed the image, reputation, and dignity of the office, I think the goal of the Public Safety reform is to basically restore dignity and the image of Public Safety in a way that both the officers can be proud of and that [PSAC] can be proud of,” Elias said. “It’s one thing to create a committee in response to a Diversity Forum…and it’s another thing for the University to set that as a priority. I hope that the University is serious about this.”
Additional reporting by News Editors Miranda Katz and Tess Morgan.