Homegrown Police Chief Still Giving Back to The Buffalo State Community
Campus Safety Higher Education Director of the Year Peter Carey has made the Buffalo State University Police Department one of the strongest in New York.
Peter Carey has been a part of Buffalo State College’s community for nearly 40 years. Perhaps that’s why he’s so committed to keeping the school safe.
It all began in 1978 when, as a fresh-faced 18 year old, Carey volunteered to become an assistant to the university police while pursuing his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Two years later, Carey graduated from the police academy and became an official member of the Buffalo State Police Department.
From that moment forward, Carey’s career has been a case study in climbing the ranks of an organization while earning the respect of colleagues. He’s served as an investigator, a lieutenant, an assistant chief and finally the chief of police, where he still serves today.
“Chief Carey has been clearly dedicated to serving the students, faculty and staff of Buffalo State College at an exceptional level throughout his entire 38 year career,” Buffalo State Vice President for Finance and Management Michael LeVine says. “Policing is extremely challenging, yet Peter instills in his police officers strong work ethic, high morale and pride in their work.”
Carey Adapts to a Changing Campus Environment
Carey’s work improving Buffalo State spans decades, and he’s as familiar with the campus as anyone at this point. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t changed since he first walked onto campus as a student. In fact, Carey has overseen the addition of several new buildings, including a new technology building, the expansion of an art center and a 500-bed student residence hall. The school is also in the process of building a new alumni and visitor center and renovating an administrative building to house an additional 200 students on campus.
Carey says the projects will bring new challenges but has also come to see them as opportunities.
“We’re involved from the planning stage for those projects with campus executives and the architects,” he says. “We make sure we set up the best access control systems for those spaces, we make sure camera placement both inside and outside the building will maximize our coverage of the campus. And we also have them put in the cabling to allow us to add to the system later on. The construction gives us the opportunity to be as current as possible with our operations so we can improve the overall safety of the campus.”
As the campus population has grown, Carey’s staffing levels have remained largely constant in recent years. This has made efficient use of resources at the department especially important, and Carey has instituted several policies to make each officer’s shift more effective.
Officers are paid to arrive to work 15 minutes early in order to complete pre-shift briefings, which allow the officers arriving and the officers leaving to talk about what’s been going on around campus and what to expect. In 1996, Carey also established the police department bike patrol.
In addition, Carey and his lieutenants review each call the department receives, using that analysis to make sure officers are in the right place on campus and working on the right things.
“Chief Carey is excellent at creating his departmental budget and handling budget constraints,” LeVine says. “He has demonstrated an ability to do more with less. He also develops initiatives that result in cost savings, like automating processes that had previously been completed manually.”
The Buffalo State Police Department hasn’t just survived through campus changes and budget constraints, it’s thrived. In 2012, it earned the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services Police Department Accreditation, a distinction held by just 25 percent of all police departments in the state. The department recently got reaccredited earlier this year.
“[Accreditation] is a comprehensive process; they look at everything we do and judge if it aligns with best practices,” Carey explains. “You have to prove that your policies, how you train your officers, everything meets those best practices.”
Peter Carey’s Approach Makes a Difference
Buffalo State handles all of its own investigations, relying on a collaborative process that involves a team of investigators, the assistant chief of police and Chief Carey. The department also has a strong working relationship with local police agencies, consults with an assistant district attorney that is assigned to Buffalo State and uses a crime analysis center in Eerie County to receive daily intelligent briefings from the New York counterterrorism agency.
Perhaps the most helpful thing that Chief Carey has accomplished for his current role was graduate from Buffalo State’s law school, earning his JD with concentrations in civil litigation and criminal law in 2001. After that, Carey practiced law as a solo practitioner and opened up his own law office. That legal background helps him maintain a broad view when responding to and investigating incidents.
“Law school gave me a whole new perspective on how to think and analyze things,” Carey says. “It also helps me understand when to get help and advice. I still call our police council and the district attorney’s office to seek their advice. Because it doesn’t matter what I think, they’re the ones handling the case.”
That approach, coupled with Carey’s dedication to the community he serves, has proven very effective. Indeed, throughout his time at Buffalo State, Carey has successfully responded to many notable incidents on campus.
There was, for instance, the man he arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a child on campus. During the investigation Carey discovered the suspect had also been working at a children’s home. After working closely with the district attorney, the suspect was charged and then convicted for the crime, helping to keep dozens of additional children out of danger.
Another time, in 2002 when Carey was still a lieutenant, a student brought two cans of gasoline into his dorm room on the eighth floor of a residence hall and started a fire.
“Because the containers were closed and he was in a closed room, there was an explosion that literally blew out an entire wall between his room and the room next door,” Carey remembers.
Carey and another officer responded to the incident while the fire was still raging, and Carey discovered students who hadn’t evacuated on the two smoke-filled floors above the fire. He helped them navigate out of the building safely.
Although Carey’s successful response to emergencies and crimes get the most attention, the chief is quick to point out that, beyond keeping the community safe, his most important role is helping students grow as people.
To that end Carey has devoted an enormous amount of time and effort. He mentored one student who went on to earn the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence, get her master’s in criminal justice and now works as a crime analyst for the Albany Police Department.
Carey has also served as an adjunct professor in the department of criminal justice for more than 14 years, teaching over 2,500 students. In 2008, he was recognized as the instructor of the year by the United Students Government.
“It doesn’t get the notoriety of a major incident, but just as important to what we do as a community police agency and being part of an educational institution is helping people and groups every day however we can,” Carey says. “The majority of our community is 18 to 22 years old, so you have an opportunity to help them shape their future. For me that’s what’s most important.”
Buffalo State Department Embraces Community Policing
Carey’s passion for developing a relationship with the community has clearly influenced the entire department. A community policing tab is featured prominently on the Buffalo State Police webpage, right beneath the police department’s mission statement.
Carey credits President Katherine Conway-Turner for forming a community policing advisory committee when she arrived that helped foster a community-oriented philosophy in the police department. As part of that mindset, Carey has implemented a number of programs to support community policing efforts.
In addition to playing a prominent role at things like orientation and other regular campus activities, the Buffalo State Police Department runs underage drinking prevention programs, self-defense programs and the Coffee with a Cop program to increase their interactions with the community.
Carey’s department also employs around 55 students each year as official university police student assistants. The students help the department provide services by doing things like driving escort vans, helping with special events on campus and providing security in places like residence halls and libraries.
“The [university police student assistant] program is a big part of our community policing efforts,” Carey says. “Having our students, who are our community, work with us to make Buffalo State a safe campus is great. It also gives them an employment opportunity, so everybody wins.”
In addition to those programs, the department has developed productive working partnerships with campus services, the counseling center, the dean of student’s, residence life, the student government and its student organizations and many other campus groups to help keep a finger on the pulse of the community.
Officers start each shift by going on a foot patrol to different parts of campus, and Carey makes sure officers spend added time inside first year residence halls, where students are mostly likely to be struggling with campus life.
“The patrols are for visibility and deterrence, but also to interact with the community in a non-call setting and to build relationships with students,” he says. “We spend a lot of time trying to set the groundwork for a positive relationship that will only improve during students’ time here.”
Carey A Worthy Director of the Year
Detailing each award Carey has earned throughout his long career could be an article in and of itself. He’s won four professionalism awards from the SUNY Police Chiefs Association, garnered four letters of commendation from multiple offices for his response to specific incidents and won the prestigious Heroism Award for his actions following the residence hall fire.
All of these honors contributed to Carey winning the Campus Safety Higher Education Director of the Year Award. But you get the sense when speaking with him that the individual awards don’t mean as much to him as things like the department-wide accreditation and the strides in community policing that have been made over the last five years.
As he discussed his achievements, Carey was quick to point out that the people he works with every day have played a large role in the success he’s had.
“The biggest thing to having and running a good university police department is taking the time and effort to hire good people,” Carey says. “And once you’ve done that, to train them well so they can do their job. We’ve spent significant time and effort training our people. My best advice is to hire good people and invest in them.”
Fortunately for the Buffalo State community, university officials invested in Carey a long time ago, and it’s still paying off.