Department of Public Safety discusses past and present relationship with student body

Photo Credit: gettysburg.edu

Photo Credit: gettysburg.edu

By Brendan Raleigh, Web Editor

Connie and Howard Clery thought their daughter, Jeanne, would be safer at Lehigh University than at Tulane University, where, they heard, a student had recently been murdered.

But due to the relaxed laws regarding the reporting of on-campus crimes, the Clerys had not heard about the thirty- eight violent offenses that had transpired at Lehigh in the past three years.

Jeanne would pay for her parents’ ignorance of that fact.

Halfway through her freshman year in 1986, Jeanne was found dead in her dormitory. She had been raped, tortured, murdered and mutilated by a student with a recent history of violent crime.

These events spurred the passing of the Clery Act in 1990, a landmark piece of legislation requiring U.S. colleges to report all on-campus crimes to the federal government.

“Prior to the mid-80s,”says Gettysburg College’s director of public safety Bill Lafferty, “probably only 15 percent of colleges and universities made crimes that happened on their campuses public. Now everybody has to do that.”

If any college refuses to comply, they could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines, as well as suspension from financial aid programs.

Along with the Clery Act came a new mindset as to how campus security was meant to operate. Lafferty cites the law as a large part of the reason that campus security has played a more active role in enforcing laws recently, rather than just supporting nearby police departments.

“I think some students might see the Department of Public Safety just as an obstacle to a free party,” admits Lafferty.

“I do not know if that is the general consensus, but I do hear that. So, for example, when [Gettysburg College] made some changes to its alcohol policy, I think a lot of the student frustration has been taken out on Public Safety officers, when, in fact, they are just trying to enforce a new institutional policy.”

Furthermore, he stated that the popular John Landis film-inspired “Animal House” mentality that may have existed during the 1980s, when campus security could cut deals with students and act at its own discretion, can no longer work.

“When I went to school, people were always smoking and drinking in the hallways,” says Dorothy Schulien, who graduated from the University of Maryland in 1990.

“The campus police never really punished anyone for that kind of stuff. But now, it seems like they have to take every offense very seriously. And they should. With all of the freedom that we were given back then, a lot of people took advantage of it and really did some stupid, dangerous things.”

Although the common conception is that this change has put Gettysburg students and the Department of Public Safety at odds, Lafferty believes that students’ attitudes toward it vary from student to student.

“I think it depends on what end of the spectrum you’re on. If you are being written up for a specific incident, you are probably not too happy with Public Safety, but if you are the victim of that crime and you are working with Public Safety, you probably have a different perspective. It really depends on the position that the students find themselves in.”

This does not mean that Gettysburg College administrators are fully satisfied with the current relationship.

In recent years, for example, the College has implemented a number of programs designed to encourage and facilitate the submission of student input on security and safety policies.

Examples of such programs include the liaison programs with first-years, sororities and fraternities, outreach programs, an advisory council, and the growing student security committee.

Jeff Foster, Gettysburg College’s associate dean of College Life, believes that these programs have been integral to the increased reporting of crimes that occur on campus. More students are aware of the activities around them and are less afraid to speak up about criminal actions they have witnessed.

“I think [the relationship] has improved largely because DPS, under Bill Lafferty’s leadership, has strategically focused on building relationships [and] providing safety and security services and support to our community,” says Foster.

“Students rely on the Department of Public Safety for support when they have concerns about their own safety and well-being, or the safety and well-being of their fellow students around them.”

While not all students may agree with Foster, there are certainly a considerable number who are appreciative of the effort put forth by Department of Public Safety to keep us safe.

“I understand that [Department of Public Safety Officers] have their job to do,” comments Gettysburg College sophomore Audra DeBoy.

“A lot of students will say that all [the Department of Public Safety] does is bust first-year students and give out parking tickets, but I really do think they have their priorities straight. I know that, if they weren’t here, people would be complaining about how unsafe it is without any security officers. The school really does not have a way to please everyone.”

For more information regarding campus and public safety, you can contact the Department of Public at their home building on 51 West Stevens Street, through their extension 6911 or talk to the DPS Officer assigned to your residence hall.

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Author: Brendan Raleigh

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