On Friday September 23, Interim Director of Public Safety Dave Zylak held the first of a regular open hour at the Campus Center to address student concerns about Public Safety’s pending police commissions. A dozen students attended and asked questions about the commissions, sexual assault, and officer training.
Zylak opened the hour by discussing his personal background in law enforcement and some of the changes he has had to make moving into a campus setting such as seeking input from students. He said, “I realized very soon that students have a say in what goes on and I think that’s a good thing.”
The conversation quickly turned to the police commissions. Zylak said nearly all college campuses in Maryland have commissioned officers and until recently, most officers at St. Mary’s were commissioned officers.
According to Derek Thornton, the Assistant Vice President for Campus Operations, who ran Public Safety from 2007 to 2010, “there were three [commissioned officers] initially and two provisional commissions granted during my tenure.” Obtaining commissions became a priority again when Public Safety moved from the Business and Finance Department to Student Affairs Department last year, according to the Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Laura Bayless.
Students expressed concerns with the return of the police commissions. Senior Jack Mumby, Townhouse Senator, said, “my fear is some freshman comes and has a stupid night and now they have a criminal record.”
In response, Zylak said the internal policy will be that arrests will only be made after he approves. When asked what kind of situation in which he would approve an arrest he said, “if you punch a Public Safety officer in the face, you will be arrested.”
Zylak also said he does not intend to change the number of arrests on campus. According to him, all cases that would be handled through Judicial Board now will still be handled that way and more serious crimes will still be handled by the sheriff’s office. “We have a memorandum of understanding with the sheriff’s office to handle serious crimes like murders, rapes etc… We are not equipped to investigate those kinds of crimes,” he said.
“The big thing we have on-campus is distrbution charges,” said Zylak. “Both Dean Bayless and I agree that it doesn’t do anyone any good to have drug dealers on campus,” he added.
Mumby also asked what Zylak intends to do to improve Public Safety’s relationship with students. He said, “There is a perception on campus that there is an adversarial relationship between Public Safety and students.”
Zylak said, “I will do my best to make that a better relationship.” He said he has already investigated 3-4 complaints students have made of officers and he encouraged students to come to him with further complaints. “I want to know if you have been mistreated … My officers will be held accountable by me,” he said.
Senior Caroline Selle said, “we appreciate that you’re so accessible and it would go a long way to breaking down barriers if we could get to know the other officers.” Zylak said he is working on getting his officers into the community more often in a less formal role, including more friendly uniforms and a Public Safety dodgeball game.
Seniors Johanna Galat and Emily Saari asked Zylak about Public Safety’s procedure with sexual assault cases and how that procedure would change with police commissions. Zylak said the commissions would not affect how they handle sexual assalt cases. “The process will be driven by the survivor,” he said.
Zylak also clarified a statement he made at a meeting with the First Responders Network. When he said false reports of sexual assault happen he was referring to his own law enforcement experience where he encountered a few false reports. “When someone comes in and says they were sexually assaulted we take that at 100% face value and investigate,” he added.
Both the students in attendance and Zylak expressed how helpful the open hour was and Zylak intends to hold one every other week for as long as they remain helpful. The next hour will be announced via all-student email.