Brian Pray and David Dray, the final two candidates for the position of Director of Public Safety (PSafe), visited the University on Tuesday, Feb. 18 and Wednesday, Feb. 19., respectively, to meet with the community as part of their interview process.
The PSafe director search committee assembled various student, faculty, and staff groups to meet with the candidates throughout the two days. Candidates met with Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley, as well as representatives from Human Resources, PSafe, the Middletown Police Department, Student Affairs, and other student and faculty groups.
“We always say it’s part interview, part endurance test,” Whaley said.
At the end of the day, each candidate was asked to give a short presentation on his views and methods of community policing. These sessions were held in the Public Affairs Center and open to all students, faculty, and staff.
Whaley stated that these presentations served a dual purpose for the search committee.
“There are a lot of people who are interested and enthusiastic about bringing in new leadership, and not all of those people have an opportunity to be on these panels and have
an hour with the candidate,” Whaley said. “It’s also an opportunity for the search committee to see how [the candidates] interact in a community presentation, how they do their presentation, how they respond to questions, how they respond to criticism. Those kinds of things are really important for us to see.”
Whaley further explained that the committee is looking for a director with experience with a community-policing model.
“We’re looking for somebody who has interesting…and innovative ideas, for somebody who has some creativity, good communication skills,” Whaley said. “…Many of our officers are interested in building relationships through community policing so that when they have to address a difficult situation, there’s some sort of established relationship between the students and the Public Safety officers…. That includes talking with the members of the department and also with other constituent groups at the institution to really ask…and answer the question, ‘What do we want to see as a community from this really important office?’”
In his presentation Tuesday evening, Pray outlined his previous work with community policing as the Chief of Public Safety at the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UMass) and Salem State University. He stressed that, above all, the model requires a collective effort.
“At UMass, we were able to practice community policing by giving the officers the tools that they required with which to do their jobs,” Pray said. “My role is to do that: to get them the tools, the training that they need so that they can do their jobs as well, leading by example. We found great success, in particular at [UMass] Lowell, by assigning liaison officers to various key constituents such as the Residence Hall Association, such as Physical Plant…. Everybody is involved in community policing. The police are the public; the public are the police.”
In particular, Pray stressed the importance of empathy and trust between officers and community members, and how those characteristics have manifested in his past positions.
“We tried to instruct our officers…to be aware of their surroundings,” Pray said. “You might drive a nice car, and the struggling student doesn’t have a car to get around and is waiting at the bus stop. Give him a ride. I don’t care if you’re leaving your sector [momentarily]. Give him or her a ride; give them a helping hand now and then.”
Dray gave his presentation the following night, emphasizing how his experience as a lieutenant at Westfield State University and deputy chief of Public Safety at Ithaca College have given him a model of successful community policing. Like Pray, he stressed that community policing could not be successful without the support of the University, faculty, staff, and students.
Dray especially emphasized the importance of the Adopt-a-Hall program, in which each Public Safety officer is dedicated to a Residence Hall and holds weekly office hours.
“After a while, that builds up a good rapport with the students that live in that ResHall; they get to know that officer,” Dray said. “…You get back rewards tenfold. This is also a good time for the officer who has ownership of that hall to do their own presentations, whether it’s crime prevention, sexual assault, or an issue or a problem within that ResHall. They go to the students and talk and address that problem and ask and come up with solutions…. [They] ask the community what the problem is [and] work with them to solve that problem.”
In addition, Dray spoke extensively about his experience with victims of hate crimes and sexual assault. He stated that when investigating cases of sexual assault, his first priority is that the survivor feels safe and secure.
“One of the memories that I have has to do with, unfortunately, a female that had been sexually assaulted at Westfield,” Dray said. “We did an investigation. We caught the perpetrator…. He automatically pled [guilty to] 15 to 20 years. I didn’t give up on the student; she didn’t give up on herself. I was very proud when I saw her walk across that stage and graduate. That is dealing with a sexual assault. Never pleasant, but you never want to re-victimize.”
Following Dray’s presentation, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy began circulating an email expressing issues with several of his proposed changes to PSafe. Co-Presidents Andrew Olson ’16 and Xandra Strauss ’16 encouraged students to listen to the audio recording of Dray’s presentation and, if they disapproved of the candidate, to email Whaley and express their opposition to the University offering Dray the position.
Olson emphasized the potential problems associated with the three strikes policy Dray adopted concerning drug and alcohol use violations on campus in his current position.
“In accordance with the Alcohol and Other Drugs [Prevention Team] at Ithaca College, he developed this policy of three strikes for alcohol and other drugs, and on the third strike, you get kicked out of student housing,” Olson said. “When he was asked if that had resulted in either reduction of violations or pushed it more underground, he said both. When I asked him what affect it had had on reporting incidents of sexual assault, he said that he didn’t know.”
The email also mentioned Dray’s support of placing Public Safety officers in freshman residence halls and joint patrols with the Middletown Police aimed at crowd control on Washington Avenue and Fountain Avenue. Strauss stated that she feared the changes this would make to the campus atmosphere.
“Personally, I think [his policies] would create a much more intimidating atmosphere,” Strauss said. “It was clear that he was using intimidation as his main force to reduce [alcohol and drug] incidents.”
Jason Shatz ’14 attended both sessions and believes that confidence and approachability are the most important characteristics to look for in a new director of Public Safety.
“This is a time where Public Safety’s reputation has been scarred, and this changing of the guard poses a unique opportunity for us to rebuild our trust in those who should keep us safe,” Shatz said. “They should really address some of the problems that we’ve been having over the past few years.”
The search committee is considering adding one or two more candidates to the final pool, but Whaley is hopeful that the position will be filled by the end of the semester. The University had expected to hire a new director last semester, but the preferred candidate withdrew for personal reasons, leading the search committee to start again with a new pool of applicants.
President Michael Roth expressed that he is willing to take time to find a candidate who is right for the University.
“On paper they look like they are highly qualified,” Roth said. “…I’m hopeful that we will hire someone, but we want to hire the right person.”
Whaley emphasized his gratitude to Interim Director of Public Safety Tony Bostick and to the department as a whole.
“I’m really grateful to Tony Bostick, who is both the Associate Director and the Interim Director, and the rest of the staff there, who are really pitching in to keep the office running while we’re in session,” Whaley said. “They’re doing a lot of work and a really good job keeping it going until we get a new director.”