By Jack Caron
Most colleges in the United States have some sort of campus security or police department. It seems the student bodies of these institutions are often at odds with these campus security organizations. At St. Michael’s College this security is called Public Safety, commonly known among stduents as Pub Safe. As a student, I myself have been at odds with Public Safety in the past. Like many college-aged adolescents, I sometimes find Friday night respite through the consumption of alcohol in social situations. As an organization whose mission is to keep college students safe and within the laws of the college and surrounding area, Pub Safe has a difficult job to say the least.
“Public Safety officers deal with many of the same issues that other local police departments deal with,” Doug Babcock, director of public safety told me in a recent interview, “the difference is Public Safety officers have more rules to follow and fewer resources, such as the inability to make an arrest in a potentially dangerous situation.” The fact that students like myself tend not to enjoy most interactions with Public Safety would lead one to imagine the relationship between Pub Safe and the student body might be strained at best.
The one resource that Public Safety has that local police officers don’t is the ability to talk to students after an incident and discuss what went wrong in the situation. This potential for an open dialogue was further echoed by Jeff Vincent, coordinator of community standards & student conduct/assistant dean of students.
“The best relationship [between public safety and students] on campus is for us all to realize we are all St. Michael’s College,” Vincent said. “We may have different roles and different ways in which we walk, but ultimately we all love our community.” Vincent went on to describe how the senior class has been working with public safety and residence life this year in a partnership to keep the community safer by communicating what the seniors want help with and what Public Safety needs from the student body as part of the community.
In order for there to be a peaceful and mutually beneficial relationship between any governing institution and a population of people, there needs to be a dialogue of understanding and respect. Based on my conversation with the representatives of Pub Safe and Res Life, it is clear that nobody is out to get anybody on campus. Public Safety exists to keep students safe and within school rules. However, they’re also people, and they’re part of our school’s community. They want to help us, and they want us to help them. Everyone wants to have fun on campus on weekend nights, but there needs to be an understanding that when things get out of hand people can get hurt and avoidable harm can come to the community. The communication between the upperclassmen and Public Safety is what may help keep this campus a fun and sustainable environment for all members of the community.
There needs to be a happy medium to keep everyone safe and behaving within reason while also maintaining a fun, positive atmosphere among students during social gatherings on campus. Does this mean that some parties might not be able to have a large shouting crowd of underclassmen drinking outside a house until the sun comes up? It may. The hope of this more involved Public Safety presence on campus, however, is to establish an environment of moderation and cooperation.
“I don’t have the ability to access the exact statistics right now,” Babcock said. “But I can tell you that my officers have reported noticeably fewer incidents this semester than we would typically have had by this point.” If Public Safety being stricter on keeping parties within their party registration guidelines means fewer students are actually getting citations, maybe it isn’t such a bad thing for the social scene of the college at all.
My opinion on the more involved presence of Public Safety around the townhouses shifted somewhat with the perspective I gained from my discussion with Vincent and Babcock. Students need to understand where Public Safety is coming from in order to allow Public Safety understand us. We want the freedom to have fun on weekends, but we also want all of the members of our community to feel safe. The best way to make that happen is to work alongside “our partners in Public Safety” and communicate with them.