Written By: Maeve Ballantine
As the primary law enforcement on campus, Public Safety is responsible for keeping the students of St. Mary’s safe and out of harm’s way. However, is it safe to assume that Public Safety might not hold the wellbeing of the students as their most important value?
One might assume that Public Safety officers are there to first and foremost protect students. Since it is their job to make sure that students, visitors, faculty and staff are as safe as they can be, it would not be that unusual of a judgement. However one thing that has been found with recent Public Safety callings is that arrival times for Public Safety officers vary between arriving in a timely manner and arriving long after an event has happened. One student, who asked to remain anonymous, suffers from chronic pain and last year suffered from a leg injury which made walking around campus extremely difficult. They were instructed to call Public Safety in order to be escorted to and from the campus center so they could get food. Even when there were plenty of officers on call and when the student in question was waiting at the campus center, which is perhaps a five to ten minute drive from the Public Safety headquarters, it would take Public Safety between 45 and 50 minutes to arrive and escort the student. If this is the case, how quickly does it take them to arrive on scene when there’s an actual emergency? If a student is in danger, either from an attack or from a health issue, every minute counts and if nobody arrives to help in a timely manner, it could have disastrous results.
Even when Public Safety does arrive on time, there are situations where they are in danger of causing more harm than good. According to an article by psycom.net, there is no mental health or sensitivity training for the police officers hired by the government. If this is the case, it’s unlikely that there is training for Public Safety officers. So if they encounter a student who has had some kind of violence committed against them, they may not be able to get the needed information from the student without causing more damage than necessary. Talking about a trauma, especially talking about it so soon after it has happened, is mentally devastating and the officers are not equipped to appropriately handle the situation. The same can be said for when they are encountering people who they either speak with or detain for doing something wrong. For example, on the night of October 8, a group of five students who were on the roof of Montgomery hall, not for purposes of self harm or property damage, but simply behaving as college students who were bored. Public safety was called and according to one student, who wished to remain anonymous, the conduct of the officers and the questions they asked regarding the student’s personal life and mental health were quite inappropriate. Since there is no formal training for Public Safety officers, when they encounter a student with mental health complications, disorders, or illnesses, they are unable to handle the situation in a manner that won’t risk serious trauma or harm to the student in question. Rather than treat the situation with sensitivity and treat whomever it is they encounter as a person and not a criminal, there are officers who simply judge the situation before having a clear grasp on it. Protocol is important to a person in authority but if protocol is made a priority over students’ overall safety, are we really trusting our well being with the right people?