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Public Safety, borough police clarify relationship

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Students frequently spot police officers on campus, with headlights fixed on the pathways students use to return from parties. Yet, Public Safety employs more personnel than the Swarthmore Borough Police Department; Director of Public Safety Michael Hill has twenty five staff members versus the police department’s eight.

According to Hill, the borough police and the college administration have a close working relationship. The police meet with the college administration every month, and have a written Memorandum of Understanding with Public Safety.

“The MOU puts in writing the practices and protocols that we have in place around a variety of issues, such as emergency response,” said Hill in an email.

The main purpose of the Memorandum is to make clear what information the two parties can share. Public safety can’t share certain information due to Department of Education regulations, according Chief of Police Brian Craig. The Swarthmore police department also has restrictions on what it can share with the college in terms of criminal history records. The Memorandum makes clear that the college ID is a viable form of identification, said Craig, except for moving violations or a violation committed by the driver of a vehicle, students need a government issued identification. The agreement includes a non-pursuit policy which allows public safety to respond initially to auto-accidents and other issues, then call the police to file a report in their system.

The Memorandum also includes agreed upon practices, such as 911 hang-ups. When someone calls 911 and hangs up, the call gets forwarded to the police. The police then call public safety and ask them to check on the situation. The police only respond to the call if public safety requests them to. This practice keeps police out of campus buildings unless a direct 911 call is made.

While the police do patrol Swarthmore’s campus, they only do so in vehicles similarly to the way they monitor the rest of the borough.

“We’re not looking to get involved in the campus,” said Craig. “We take our responsibility to keep it safe very seriously … Our officers patrol the campus, but we don’t go into the dorms unless we’re called for something.”

While the Memorandum is an established written document, the police assess situations on a case by case basis.

The administration and Swarthmore police meet once a month to discuss any disagreements they have. Craig said this occurs sometimes when the police consider someone criminally liable, but the college doesn’t want to prosecute. Because the college is a property owner, administrators can decide whether or not to prosecute in situations when the officer isn’t an eyewitness to the events occurring. Since the police don’t enter the buildings, this would be the dorms and the classrooms.

“When we observe [illicit behavior] we can take action, like [for] underage drinking,” said Craig. “Unless the officer actually observes a violation, he can’t take the appropriate jurisdictional action.”

The police also include Public Safety’s only channel in the radio band that they monitor.

“We just listen to one [radio channel] which is essentially their emergency band as we understand it,” said Craig.

Students have mixed opinions on whether this practice should be occurring.

“On the one hand it’s still their borough, under their jurisdiction,” said Olivia Robbins ’21. “But on the other hand, [the college is] a private institution with private security measures.”

Hill underscored the importance of the practice.  

Having the ability to communicate in a crisis with emergency personnel is crucial, and the College’s effort to ensure this level of radio interoperability demonstrates the commitment the institution has towards the safety of our community,” Hill said.

As a sworn public department, the police have certain abilities that public safety does not. They carry firearms, which means they respond to any armed crimes. They deal with burglaries and reports of intruders on campus and off campus buildings. The police will also respond to any medical calls; officers are trained first responders and often arrive to the scene before the ambulance does. This allows them to asses the situation and report the details to EMTs when they arrive, but also allows them to issue citations.

The Police have a close relationship with the campus community. They participate in RA training, and certain classes such as sensitivity training and critical incident communication.

“We don’t consider Swarthmore College a separate entity from the Swarthmore borough,” said Craig.

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