Each night students living on-campus use their Ram E-card as swipe access for entry into their residence hall. Accustomed to the Department of Public Safety [DPS] security officers, residents flash their ID cards with their color coordinated sticker indicating they reside in the residence hall.
Lt. Ray Stevenson, Assistant Director Residence Hall Security division of DPS, said the role of security on-campus permits students and guests at the university to feel “safe and secure” anywhere on-campus and to “provide them with a safe environment” allocated for concentration on academics. Three components of safety measures, including foot patrol, bike patrol and security officers stationed in residence halls, make an effort to maintain a safe learning environment. “This form of [bike] patrol allows the officers to be approached more readily by the general public and drastically reduces response time by allowing officers to ride in sectors otherwise inaccessible to cars,” the DPS manual states. Stevenson said security officers making rounds in residence halls keeps them “visible and being proactive.” DPS police and security officers, proactive in a way that Stevenson aims, “if I can prevent something from occurring,” this can maintain a safe campus environment.
The duties of the security division have expanded since the program began in 1985, according to the manual, to include: patrolling the south campus parking lots and the new housing complex at the south campus, monitoring the entrance to certain academic buildings, providing security coverage for the Graduate Business Center and for College Arms property. With no security officer in the residence of University Hall, the security protection relies mostly on a night-watch duty. The first affiliated housing complex on-campus “wanted to create a hall monitor-like position.” Stevenson said the student held night watch position has “no authority” and would have to call in to DPS dispatcher for a responder to any incident.
Stevenson felt the night watch is more centered on service aspects than security aspects. Describing the position to be like customer service, as the student being the customer, Stevenson said residents could go to the front desk for information. The night watch personnel acts as security as they check IDs and comply with keeping a log of residents signing in guests.
A basic training to the night-watch staff, provided by Stevenson, reviews “basic front desk procedures” and services provided by DPS. Stevenson said he informs the employees of people “piggy-backing” into the residence, what to do if they suspect someone is under the influence, and “how to deal with irate/confrontational students.” The night-watch training is an hour-long session. “There has been no observed frequency or severity of incidents over the past eight years in University Hall that necessitated a change of security operations in the residence,” Mike Selby, University Student Housing [USH] Director of Housing, said in an e-mail.
He said DPS has “not formally requested” the addition of a security officer in University Hall. USH views are similar to DPS and Student Health Services as Selby said, “Student safety is our number one priority.”
“We’ve always been prepared to (station) security there,” Stevenson said confidently in regards to University Hall.
The decision to have the “student facilitated night-watch” Selby said in a phone interview, had been developed previously by the private management company responsible for the construction and initial operation of University Hall. Construction of the residence began in 2003, and opened in fall 2004. The current committee said they have not seen the number of incidents increase and they are “fairly happy” with the 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. night-watch shift.
A WCU student works at the front desk as a desk assistant until 10 p.m. as the night-watch begins. USH has changed the old shift from 11 p.m. – 3 a.m., after noticing the most “foot traffic” during the hours of 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Selby said the night-watch “seems to be working well for us” as the residence hall tends to remain a quiet building. University Hall is less than half the size of the two newest affiliated housing residence halls. “Security concerns are reviewed yearly,” Selby said in an e-mail. “Changes will be made if warranted.” He added that the night-watch position has given employment to more than 50 WCU students.
Stevenson would like to see a security officer in the residence, which would uniform this across campus. DPS officers make rounds in University Hall with the “only difference” of no security officers stationed at the front desk. Stevenson said USH “inquired” about having the security presence to “protect” in Alleghany and Brandywine Halls. According to the DPS manual, the security division became responsible for providing security coverage to the affiliated housing in fall 2009.
Selby reports to the Executive Director, WCU Foundation/ University Student Housing (USH), LLC., in which all decisions are made. Their committee discusses factors such as how people can gain entry to the building and who will be occupying the rooms. First-year students, transfers and upperclassmen can reside in Allegheny and Brandywine. Selby said the needs are different from the residents “living away from home for the first time” as opposed to the needs of the returning students. University Hall is an upperclassmen only residence.
Selby said the affiliated housing would have an “incredible amount of foot traffic” in and out of the building with their guests. Allegheny houses 636 residents, while Brandywine houses 622 residents.
With a “strong working relationship” with DPS, the USH committee proceeded to have DPS security officers stationed in Allegheny and Brandywine Halls. Selby said the committee members wanted an authority “guarding” the residence a
nd to ensure that anyone who should not be in the building could not access the residence at night. The safety factors mirror considerations of traditional housing having security officers. “Security officers are responsible for active patrol of the residence halls and grounds . . . they are stationed at the entrances to all residence halls during periods of occupancy between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. in order to screen all persons wishing to gain [entry to the building]. They also conduct periodic floor checks during their assigned duty shifts,” the DPS Manual states.
Stevenson would like to have security 24 hours; however the budget is “not feasible now.” In January 2005 the ID card swipe access machine installed allowed for the security shift to change from previous 12 and 10-hour shifts to the current eight-hour shift. Using log visitations, DPS officials noticed “high concentration of students” entering and leaving their residence halls from 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. during Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. In general, foot traffic in residence halls occurs from 8 p.m. to midnight. DPS works “around the clock” with police officers patrolling “24/7” during the year. Students have a “misconception” that DPS employees have off Stevenson said. During the December to January winter break and summertime, DPS security works on a “skeleton staff.” Stevenson said during the summer, generally only two residence halls are open with security stationed from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. This can depend on who is “occupying” the residence hall.
Over the summer, there are resident assistants, students taking summer classes, orientation leaders, and various camps, among others. DPS security returns to a full staff as students return for the start of the academic year.
DPS gets “intel” from security officers in residence halls. “Students feel more comfortable” reporting to the visible and perpetually present security division, Stevenson said. Students living in residence halls see a security officer every night, Stevenson said over time students become comfortable to make a report and explains “why we have security and police officers do rounds.”
There’s a “two-fold” reason for security in the library. First, the security officer can ensure students are following “policies and procedures” of the library and university. Secondly, the security officer’s existence calls for students to “think twice” about their actions. A number of thefts from the library were reported during the previous academic year.
Training includes having the security officers complete 40 hours of “on-sight training” during which they are stationed with an experienced security officer, sitting in each residence hall. Other areas of training include: CPR and first aid, drug identification training, and recognizing the effects of someone under the influence of alcohol. They also receive training from the Office of Judicial Affairs.
Lynn Klingensmith, from Judicial Affairs, informs the security officers of university policies. Training includes learning of judicial affairs as the security officers familiarize themselves with the student code of conduct.
The code of conduct applies to students residing off-campus. Students who violate university policy will be held “accountable” for actions and may receive a judicial, Stevenson said. Security officers “detect and report any individual who violates the laws of the Commonwealth and or regulations of the university,” as according to the DPS manual. Security officers participate fully in the student judicial process with the authority to give students a judicial, Stevenson said.
Mary Jane Rogan, Coordinator of Alcohol Education, said she has discussed the “health and safety issue” of their positions with the security officers to stop people from going to their dorm rooms, who appear intoxicated. She advises security officers to ask themselves to decide if the alleged intoxicated person can walk, talk and follow directions.
Nationwide every year, 1,400 students die from alcohol related incidents, on or off of their college campuses, Rogan said. West Chester University has seen at least 24 hospitalizations this year for suspected alcohol poisoning, Rogan said. With the Good Samaritan Act, a caller dialing 911 for a friend suspected of having alcohol poisoning will not be judicially or legally processed. The number of 911 calls has increased since the act became effective this past September. Rogan considers this good as members of the Student Health Services encourages people to “let a professional decide.” Rogan said those people are “thankful” that the caller cared to call for medical attention “out of concern.” Public Safety police officers have found people “passed out” in the snow, in traffic and other locations on campus, from consuming alcohol. Rogan said. She added that holding intoxicated persons at the DPS station is about “preventing deaths.”
“It’s a process” to determine if someone is intoxicated, Stevenson said. Factors include “how much they’ve been drinking” and if they are a “danger” to themselves or to others. Stevenson said security officers identify if someone consumed alcohol by noticing indicators such as red glassy eyes, slurred speech, delayed reactions, if they are steady on their feet, whether they can follow directions or not, and checking if students are writing legibly when signing in a guest. They can stop a person for safety reasons by calling into dispatch. Then a campus police officer responds to further handle the matter.
The process also includes determining if the person is in need of medical attention and ensuring they receive it. Stopping an intoxicated person is an important aspect of security as this guarantees that person receives medical attention.
Stevenson said the process for someone underage includes being cited and detaining them at the police station to receive medical attention. It’s DPS policy in notifying parents of the matter. “We don’t want students to go upstairs (to their dorm room) to quote ‘sleep it off’ and never wake up,” Stevenson said. The role of security involves “protecting students from themselves” after they consume alcohol.
Other duties of the security division in the residence halls has officers reiterate to students they are “responsible for” the person they sign in to the residence.
The presence of security is “for your safety” and “not to hassle you.” If a guest signed in raises “any concerns” to a security officer who “articulates a reason” for this, they may dispatch for a police officer to check on the situation.
Guest admission into a residence requires a photo ID, or a security officer has the authority to deny entry. The guest log-in sheets, checked by security, contains student and guest names as “documented” material for DPS.
Everyday students bring bags in and out of their residence halls, in which all bags are subject to search upon entry to a residence hall. If a security officer “believes” there may be contraband in a bag, they can ask for a search.
According to the DPS manual, security officers have a duty to “detect, limit, and report contraband, i.e. alcohol, weapons, drug paraphernalia, from entering the residence hall.” Students have the right to refuse a search, in which they will not be permitted to bring the bag inside the residence. If no “contraband” is found, the bag may be taken into the residence.
However, if a search leads to finding contraband, the person and contraba
nd are detained, the security officer documents the students name and school ID number, and campus police are called to respond.
According to the DPS manual, security officers assist in medical emergencies, bomb threats, fires, fire drills, and disruptive incidents as well as assisting any police officer arriving at the residence hall regarding an incident. Ginger Rae Dunbar is a fifth-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at RD655287@wcupa.edu.