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Public Safety powers questioned

By Ehlayna NapolitanoNEWS EDITOR

The relationship between college students and their university public safety organizations has the potential to be fraught with tension.

It would seem that, in spite of Hofstra’s increased safety measures in recent years, Hofstra University students tend to be unwavering in their response of distrust and dissatisfaction.

According to Hofstra’s website, Public Safety here serves over 13,000 people, of whom 4,000 live on campus. One does not have to roam far to hear and see a disconnect and a seeming distrust between Public Safety and the University’s students. For instance, Amanda Cutter, a sophomore history major, said she feels that Public Safety is not as regulated as they should be on campus.

“Cops even have some kind of regulation that they can’t just break into your room,” she said. “But Public Safety doesn’t have that.”

Similarly, Gabe Woodside, a freshman radio production major, said that he has had varying experiences with Public Safety that have resulted in positive and negative feelings.

“It’s a very complicated relationship,” Woodside said. “Maybe they need to stop acting like cops, because they’re not cops.”

In reality, over 40 percent of the officers are retired law enforcement officers. According to Karen O’Callaghan, director of Public Safety at Hofstra, officers here also undergo training in addition to often bringing a variety of previous law enforcement experience.

“Public safety officers are licensed by the State of New York as security guards, which requires 32 hours of training,” O’Callaghan said in an email.

Generally, the type of work that public safety organizations are permitted to do on college and university campuses varies depending on how the officers are classified. For instance, certain organizations have “peace officers” on campus, which gives greater powers including the ability to make warrantless arrests and use physical force, according to New York State laws.

City College of New York (CCNY), which has 16,000 students enrolled, is one example of a local, similarly sized school of higher education that employs full-time peace officers, according to its website. The Manhattan school also employs security guards and monitor “closed-circuit television cameras,” whereas Hofstra uses security cameras as an investigative tool, as reported in the March 6 issue of The Chronicle.

The officers on Hofstra’s campus do not have police powers, according to O’Callaghan, and their jurisdiction is limited to on-campus. These officers are not allowed to carry firearms.

Public Safety officers at Hofstra are limited in their scope of action. Hofstra students are often apprehended and taken to disciplinary hearings, but any arrests or serious offenses are reported to the Nassau County Police Department or Hempstead Police.

It is the same type of situation at Adelphi University. According to Ray Hughes, captain of Public Safety at the Garden City Campus of Adelphi University, this type of safety officer is common in the area.

“For the most part, anyone called [“public safety”] cannot arrest anyone,” he said. He noted certain exceptions, like Stony Brook University, which he said has police officers employed.

Local police are often involved in public safety organizations, since these organizations do not have the power to detain, according to Hughes. Adelphi also works with the Garden City Police and, on larger-scale incidents, with the Nassau County Police Department. Compared to Hofstra, Adelphi University is about half its size, with about 5,040 total students enrolled. In terms of their feelings of safety, students Cutter and Woodside were divided.

“I’m sure [Public Safety] would do something if something happened,” Woodside said, but added, “I feel like they might be kind of slow … I’m skeptical of them in a serious situation.”

Cutter felt differently, saying that much of the reason she feels safe on campus is because of the presence of Public Safety officers, whom she’s seen actively doing things that she feels protects students.

“Considering where we live, I don’t feel like strange people will just break into the campus and attack us or anything,” Cutter said. “I’ve seen them chasing after people. I think they do their job.”

According to the 2012 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report published by Hofstra Public Safety, the University has an established “tradition of personal security” that has resulted in a “low number of reported crimes.” When looking at reported numbers from local schools similar to Hofstra, these “low” statistics are roughly proportional to the University’s neighbors.

In 2012, Public Safety at Hofstra reported the University having 14 total burglaries, including 12 that occurred in the residence halls. That same year, the City University of New York (CUNY) reported eight total burglaries and the Garden City campus of Adelphi University listed having just six.

At Hofstra, Public Safety’s procedures are based mainly on the Code of Conduct the University has put in place. The front desk at the Hofstra Information Center, where Public Safety’s officers are based, will respond to calls dialed to the general information or emergency phone numbers and send officers to respond. If an investigation is needed, O’Callaghan said that the investigation is done either by a supervisor or an associate director.

According to the Security and Fire Safety report, disciplinary measures typically fall under various of the University codes of conduct. It also states that individual discipline choices are taken on a case-by-case basis.

According to Annual Safety Report, the Public Safety staff serving the Hofstra community is comprised of “a director, four administrative directors (including the University’s emergency management officer), a supervisory staff of eight, 39 full-time and 19 part-time officers and five administrative assistants.”

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