There’s a new face around campus, and it’s not just the lonely, lost First-years. The new Director of Public Safety, Chief Christopher Santiago, arrived on campus just over two weeks ago, on Sept. 7, and already has a few projects in the works and big ideas for the St. Mary’s community.
Santiago was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Boston, and attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He received his A.S. and B.S. in criminal justice from Mount Ida College in Newton, MA.
For a year after graduation, Santiago worked as a Residence Director at Mount Ida before becoming the Captain of the Police Department at Simmons College in Boston, a position he held for five years.
From there, he worked for seven years as the Assistant Director for the Department of Public Safety at Keene State College in Keene, NH.
Now, he’s here at St. Mary’s as the Director of Public Safety, where for the past two weeks he’s been busy getting together policies and procedures, meeting with countless other departments and the President, and getting acquainted with the College.
During his meetings, he has discussed issues, concerns, and relationship-building with the other departments of the college, including Athletics, Food Services, Residence Life, and the Business Offices.
However, his primary concern is general organization of the Public Safety image. He has plans for a new and better facility, vehicles, and uniforms, and because he wants greater transparency into Public Safety’s (PS) services, he’s reworking their website.
Santiago also has plans to re-orient public safety; at Tuesday’s staff meeting he discussed PS being “customer service oriented and student focused.”
In order to make the officers and the department more approachable, he will increase the use of foot patrol, bike patrol, and golf cart patrol and decrease car patrols.
It’s “all about the students” for Santiago, who is open to new ideas from all members of the community. “I will bend over backwards to make student programs successful and safe,” Santiago assures, explaining that he went to an SGA meeting and is working with student leaders to “think outside the box.”
To demonstrate this, Santiago has future plans for parking on campus. He met with the business office to discuss the process for acquiring permits through Portal. Nothing will be changing for this year, but there are possibilities for the Fall of 2011, including renaming the lots, grouping the lots, or creating less lot-specific permits.
And the surge of towing on campus, the majority of which occurred before his arrival, has quieted down recently. Sixty-two cars were towed, most in the first week, but since then, few cars have been towed.
Santiago was able to clarify that the grounds for towing are not displaying a college decal. “Officers take a hell of a beating” for towing, Santiago explained, not just from students and not just at St. Mary’s, but everywhere.
He’s thankful for the parking on campus too, though, and says we’re very fortunate to have it, especially first-year students. The parking is beneficial for in-state students and extraordinarily helpful in an emergency situation.
The other topic relevant to college students is drinking, both underage and legal. Santiago explains that underage drinking is a “huge problem in the U.S., specifically for college-age students.”
He believes that in order to remedy the program, education and programming are necessary.
“My goal is to educate students that you have consequences for your choices,” specifically legal, physical, and academic consequences. Enforcement on campus is diligent but not harsh; all officers ask for is compliance and to have a conversation.
Recently, Santiago has heard a rumor that officers can’t ask students questions about what they’re drinking if they’re carrying a nondescript red cup.
He wants to clarify that officers can and will ask students anything, most often for an ID, and that open containers of alcohol, regardless of the age of the drinker, are not legal outside or in public places in residence halls.
If a student was walking by with a red cup, it is unlikely an officer would stop him or her. However, if the same student were weaving, had clothing in disarray, or was clearly disoriented, an officer might stop them to question them because officers have to consider the entirety of the situation.
Santiago also believes that there’s a deeper issue than underage drinking. “The alcohol is just the tip of the iceberg,” he explains. Santiago considers alcohol usage as an indication that students are struggling, whether with personal relationships, academics, family life, or other issues.
Therefore, Santiago encourages an open door policy with PS. “I want to encourage all members of the campus community to come introduce themselves, say hey.” Appointments to meet with him are always welcome, and can be made at the Public Safety Office or by calling.
He’s working on changing the image of PS too, hoping to establish a basis of mutual respect between officers and community.
Santiago has started a Public Safety Advisory group which currently has six members, and he “wants to be out and about,” and will frequently be walking around campus with his wife or his two dogs.