Public Safety Focuses on Best Practices and Engagement

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

When Public Safety Director Mike Hill came to Swarthmore at the beginning of last year, he made an effort to reach out to students across campus, forming several new committees and inviting his colleagues to give him suggestions.

One year later, Public Safety has also delivered on a handful of new technologies and industry best practices that bring the department up to speed. A campus-wide email, reprinted in part below, lays out the details of these initiatives.

Hill and Dean of Students Liz Braun took some time to speak with The Daily Gazette about the department’s recent efforts. Scroll down for highlights from that discussion.

 

1. We are pleased to announce a new app – EmergenSee – that is available for tablet or smartphone.  This app can assist you in contacting Public Safety in an emergency, offering text and GPS communication with Public Safety, and the ability to live stream video and audio directly to the Public Safety dispatcher in real time. EmergenSee can be downloaded for free from the App Store and Google Play.

2. Public Safety has increased their staffing and enhanced their ability to patrol campus. Please note that in addition to their regular patrol routes, they will also work closely with the Party Associates to support safety at campus events and will check campus buildings after they have closed to insure that they are secure and empty.  Additionally, Public Safety has partnered with the RAs to reenergize the Adopt-A-Dorm program, which builds relationships among the officers, RAs, and residents.

3. We have also added security cameras in several new locations this fall, such as the Bookstore, the Intercultural Center courtyard, and the Sharples Dining Hall roof, among others.  We have had security cameras on campus for a long time and they are known as a “best practice” for deterring crime and vandalism.  These cameras will not be regularly monitored and the footage will be reviewed only in the case of an active investigation.

4. As part of the College’s continued planning for emergency response, we have also been working with ITS to implement a new system that will allow us to use the College telephones as a public address system. This feature will be added to phones in classroom spaces this fall and an assessment of the program to identify future locations will continue throughout the year.

 

Even with these improvements, a glaring hole in Public Safety’s toolkit is the campus’ lack of a blue light emergency phone network. Such networks are common on campuses across the nation. Yesterday, Hill echoed his past promise that blue lights will eventually make it onto Swarthmore’s campus.

Beyond technological improvements, however, Hill has worked over the past year to change the culture of Public Safety. He hopes that all of the department’s officers will pick up on his enthusiasm for engaging for students.

As a way of building more trust with students, Hill has encouraged his officers to get more involved in community activities. For example, he has asked them to reach out to R.A.’s at least once a month to check up on situations in the dorms.

Hill explained that getting to know Public Safety Officers is crucial to campus safety. “If you know the officers prior to meeting them in a bad situation,” he said, “that interaction will go a whole lot better.”

“The R.A.’s are great folks,” he continued. “They care and they all want to do it, the P.A.’s, the same thing. All the student groups I’ve met with, they get it. […] It’s getting the other 1300 to know and feel the same way.”

Hill continually emphasized the idea of trust. Without trust, he said, safety suffers. To that end, he said that punishing students for underage drinking is not something Public Safety tries to do.

“One of the reasons I like working at college is we have flexibility and latitude to do things differently than they do at other places,” he said. “I think everyone understand that students are going to have a good time, and that may involve alcohol.”

Since safety is the top priority, he said, students shouldn’t be alarmed if Public Safety Officers approach a student during a night out. “If we shine a flashlight on a student,” he said, “the next step should be to go and talk with them and ask them for their ID, and make sure they’re ok.”

Minors who are visibly intoxicated but aren’t in need of medical treatment will have their information taken and sent to the Drug and Alcohol Counselor for a referral “to make sure that person doesn’t have a substance issue,” Hill said.

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