Public Safety Execs Must Report to Top Campus Administrators

Organizations where safety and security are priority No. 1 make sure that their police and security directors are direct reports to the institution’s executives-level decision makers.

For years now, Campus Safety magazine has been writing about the importance of campus security and law enforcement executives being involved in the important decisions of their institutions. This participation normally occurs only when the top security or police official reports to someone high up on the campus food chain. The official they report to could be the university president, the healthcare organization’s C-suite, the district’s superintendent and school board, or some other top decision maker(s).

The benefits of this approach are many. For example, when security and/or police are involved in construction planning, CPTED concepts and public safety technologies can be incorporated into new and renovated buildings in a more cost-effective way. When campus public safety participates in event planning, they can provide input on how to avoid crowd control problems and other security issues.

Getting on the team of trusted advisers in the first place, however, can be a significant challenge for some public safety officials, especially if they are on campuses that don’t fully appreciate the value of law enforcement, security and emergency preparedness. Let’s face it, as public safety officials, you are the ones who usually ask the uncomfortable “what if” questions. Also, you understand the laws and regulations, like the Clery Act, which can be pose problems for institutions that prefer to sweep their protection challenges under the rug so they don’t look bad.

Despite the discomfort and awkward moments your input could cause, top campus administrators and executives must learn to fully appreciate the knowledge and suggestions from “trouble makers” like public safety professionals. Considering the mess that Penn State is currently experiencing, you better believe they are kicking themselves for not having someone like a police chief or security director insist on addressing the Sandusky child sex abuse issues 14 years ago rather than now.

Related Article: Freeh Finds Penn State Top Brass, Paterno Conceal
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The fact that other campus executives who behave in a similar fashion could lose their jobs or be arrested should be a wake-up call to all top administrators. Let’s also not forget the expensive civil lawsuits that could put the entire organization in jeopardy. It’s just such a shame that a child being sexually abused was not enough to get Penn State top executives’ attention.

With all of this happening, I’m amazed when on occasion I still hear from some CS readers that their institutions are questioning the value of public safety’s participation in high-level campus decisions. Some are still being left out of meetings, reporting to mid-level administrators who know little or nothing about security and emergency management. Organizations that take this approach are asking for trouble.

Campus public safety executives must report to the top administrators in their institutions. Only in this way can they be the moral compass and source of security expertise so desperately needed in any organization.

That being said, security, police and emergency management officials who are part of the campus executive inner circle must guard against themselves engaging in the denial and groupthink that appears to have happened at Penn State. They must walk the fine line between smart campus politics and independence.

Campus public safety professionals must also acknowledge the fact that in the past they haven’t exactly done a stellar job of handling reports of sexual assault. For example, a man who pleaded guilty in June to molesting 23 boys claims he tried to turn himself in to campus police at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina in 2001. According to the Post and Courier, the officers told him they didn’t handle sexual misconduct reports.

Obviously, campus police and security officers are much like our society as a whole in that we have a blind spot when it comes to sexual violence. That blind spot is even bigger when children are the victims.

Despite this, public safety officials are uniquely positioned to affect positive change, especially in the field of sexual violence. But that change can only be realized when they are consulted and respected by top campus administrators.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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