Dave Zylak, former St. Mary’s County Director of Public Safety and, before that, the County Sheriff, officially entered his position as St. Mary’s Interim Director of Public Safety on April 25.
Now in the Public Safety Office behind the Michael P. O’Brien Athletics and Recreation Center, Zylak is beginning to learn the intricacies of the College community and his own Public Safety staff, including safety and communications officers.
Graduating from Penn State University with a degree in forest technology, Zylak became involved in the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office in 1983, running for election as the Democratic candidate in 2004.
Zylak was the Sheriff of St. Mary’s County from 2004 to 2006. After losing re-election to candidate Tim Cameron that year, Zylak became the County Director of Public Safety in February 2007. Zylak had had interest in the position as St. Mary’s Director of Public Safety before becoming the County Director.
“I had some interest in the position at the time,” Zylak said, “and it was something Tony [Brooks] and I talked about.”
Derek Thornton, the Physical Plant Assistant Vice President for Campus Operations, oversaw Public Safety that year, temporarily removing the need for a Public Safety head.
While Zylak’s wife, Deborah Zylak, has remained with an administrative role in the County Sheriff’s Office as records supervisor, Zylak’s family is strongly involved in education.
“My brother, Rick, is a physics teacher in Pennsylvania,” he said, “and my daughter Sara teaches music at Spring Ridge Elementary.”
Sara Zylak attended St. Mary’s almost a decade ago, graduating in 2006 with a degree in music. Zylak’s other daughter, Samantha Zylak, is an administrator in the school system.
This background, combined with his experience as County Director, contributes to Zylak’s broader view of the purpose of Public Safety itself, which he hopes to implement at the College.
“I don’t want Public Safety to be a police agency,” he said. “We need to work to change the cultural mentality. We need a broader view now, of providing safety and education.”
While working in the County, Zylak handled disaster plans for fires, floods, and other natural disasters, and worked with families to develop standard procedures for use in the case of emergencies. According to him, these issues are beyond law enforcement, and while his experience as Sheriff has developed his sense of that aspect of Public Safety, other elements of his position, more specifically the educational side, are also very important to him.
Zylak took an interest in the College Public Safety director position again after retiring as County Director, and was offered the position of Interim Director following the sudden resignation of former Director of Public Safety Chris Santiago.
“I met with [Santiago] one time…we talked about radio issues on campus,” said Zylak, referring to when St. Mary’s County set up a new radio system and wanted to involve the College’s Public Safety Office.
While Zylak hopes to promote the educational element of public safety, he plans on maintaining the Advisory Board, a group organized by Santiago to discuss public safety issues on campus, to gain community input.
An avid biker on his Harley Davidson motorcycle, a self-taught guitarist, and golfer, Zylak hopes to bring some of his own talents and interests to the College community and to get involved with the students, faculty, and staff on multiple levels.
He plans to apply for the more permanent Director of Public Safety position, to be appointed before the fall of 2011.