Broken Commitments, Failed Expectations: Pub Safe’s Role at Swarthmore

On April 19 at 5:13 p.m., Director of Public Safety Mike Hill sent an email to all students informing them of an intruder who had broken into Mertz Hall around 4:35 p.m. the day before. The individual, a middle-aged man not belonging to the Swarthmore campus community, attempted to enter a student’s room. After the student managed to close and lock the door, the intruder called out the student’s name a few times before leaving. Along with the email, Hill attached a series of three grainy photos that Pub Safe managed to find of the individual on video cameras around campus. Pub Safe’s failure to identify or apprehend the individual who entered Mertz and directly threatened the safety of a student is the latest entry in a long list of times that Pub Safe has failed to protect Swarthmore students from imminent danger. 

Hill waited more than 24 hours after the intruder was seen on campus to send a campus-wide notification. Not only did this delay preclude students from effectively contributing to the identification and apprehension efforts in a timely manner, but also kept students in the dark about potential imminent danger. Pub Safe did not use LiveSafe, an app that they recommend students download at first-year orientation for the explicit purpose of reporting and notifying students about emergency procedures, in this apt situation.   

One might be more understanding of Public Safety’s response if this incident were unprecedented. This instance of intrusion, however, follows at least two incidents of another intruder taking pictures of students through windows in Willets according to a previous Awareness Bulletin. When Pub Safe officers strictly enforce the Garnet Pledge and reprimand students for such an obvious infraction, the same high standard should especially be applied to non-college-affiliated, threatening individuals.  

Why did Mike Hill wait an entire day, long after it would have been possible to apprehend or even identify the intruder in Mertz, to send an email warning students about possible danger? Why has Pub Safe been unable to do anything about the campus intruder who has been found multiple times taking pictures of students through the windows in Willets? Why does Pub Safe crack down on students over COVID safety measures while allowing adults not affiliated with the college to walk around crowded areas like Parrish Beach without wearing masks? 

Why does Swarthmore hire police-academy-trained officers and other extensively trained public safety officials when they cannot perform their roles? How does the college allow Pub Safe to routinely racially profile students of color while not questioning white students? Why does Pub Safe maintain a ratio of roughly one camera per three on-campus residential students if the Big-Brother-like security measures aren’t enough for officers to actually catch intruders and threats in real time? Is the only purpose of this surveillance to punish hungry students who are simply looking for food? Why do Swarthmore students need to be policed and surveilled to such an extreme extent? Why aren’t Swarthmore’s Weekly Fire and Crime Logs public record? If Pub Safe has no authority over off-campus individuals other than to refer actual incidents of danger to the police, why do they exist at all?

What is Pub Safe’s purpose at Swarthmore if they can’t keep students safe? Do they exist to protect students and other on-campus community members, or do they exist solely to surveil us at every moment? Without the college’s own admission that Pub Safe is an ineffective department that frequently causes more distress than benefit to students, how can anyone in Pub Safe be held accountable for the way they exercise (or disastrously refuse to exercise) the disproportionate amount of power they hold on this campus? Does the college think that students are naive enough to believe that this paradigm of security theater protects them?

What, exactly, is Pub Safe’s purpose at Swarthmore?

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