Matt Platz, candidate for public safety, speaks to students, staff

Matt Platz, candidate for director of Public Safety, during his presentation Wednesday Nov. 7, 2018

Matt Platz, candidate for director of Public Safety, during his presentation Wednesday Nov. 7, 2018

Since August 2015, Allegheny College’s Office of Public Safety has had two permanent and three interim directors. Wednesday, Nov. 7, marked the final stages of the search for a new permanent director.

Jeff Schneider left the position in November 2015, and was replaced by interim director Sean Kennedy. In July 2016, then-permanent director Ali Awadi took over. After Awadi left in the fall of 2017, the role was filled by Sgt. Robert Wright, who retired in June 2018 and was supplanted by Sgt. Doug Merchbaker.

Matt Platz, one of two final candidates to be the office’s permanent director, shared his views for the future of the department with the campus community in a Wednesday, Nov. 7, presentation in Quigley Hall’s Henderson Auditorium.

Faculty, staff and students, including Title IX Coordinator Gilly Ford, Merchbaker and Associate Dean of Students for Wellness Education Gretchen Beck, attended Platz’s 30-minute presentation titled “Safety and Security in the Campus Community,” which began at 3 p.m.

Among many issues Platz identified in the Office of Public Safety, stability in its director role was among the highest.

“What I know … is that this is a community where people like to come and work,” Platz said, noting that members of the search committee for the position have been at Allegheny for decades. “I saw what felt like an opportunity … where I could feel part of the community, not just be here a year and leave.”

One factor about Platz that may make him predisposed to staying at Allegheny for a longer period of time, he said, is that he is from northwestern Pennsylvania.

Platz attended Edinboro University as an undergraduate, studying speech communication, and Mercyhurst University as a master’s student in organizational leadership. He currently attends Gannon University as a doctoral student in organizational learning and leadership.

Prior to holding his current role as Mercyhurst University’s director of athletic finance and ice rink operations, Platz worked for that university’s safety department as a dispatcher, officer, corporal and lieutenant from 2003 to 2015.

While at Mercyhurst, Platz said, the candidate made connections with agencies that would be able and willing to help train Allegheny’s safety officers.

“I made those connections up in Erie, and I’m sure we can bring them down here,” Platz said, adding that it would likely come at little to no cost to the college.

Another issue Platz said he identified at Allegheny was the lack of campus security cameras and lighting.

“Looking around campus, there are areas for improvement,” Platz said.

LED lighting, Platz said, would help some darker areas of the college as “less crime happens in well-lighted areas.”

These lights, too, would help with any future implementation of security cameras if the college were interested.

“It’s been my experience in 12 years of campus law enforcement that video surveillance can do a lot to help prevent some issues and help with others,” Platz said.

Former Director of Public Safety Ali Awadi began researching the potential implementation of campus security cameras in 2017, though it is not clear if any proposals came of his research. At the time, Awadi and former Dean of Students Kimberly Scott said their interest in cameras stemmed from vandalism in the Henderson Campus Center and the Steffee Hall of Life Sciences.

Yet Platz noted infrastructure alone will not increase the safety of Allegheny College. When asked about his view of enforcement and the ability of the Office of Public Safety to form connections with minority students who may be less willing to speak with officers, Platz outlined his vision of how public safety officers would engage while working.

“It’s important for the officers to step out of the vehicle,” Platz said.

The candidate also discussed the possibility of assigning officers to buildings, as he has seen at other campuses, to increase accessibility and students’ comfort around the officers.

“At certain parts of their shifts, they go up to those buildings and they’re accessible,” he said.

Platz’s stated view of campus law enforcement is similar to Dean of Students April Thompson’s, who told The Campus in September that she views the office’s duty as “community policing.”

“It’s about officers who get to know and engage with the community,” she said. “And policing is less about patrolling and more about engaging students.”

As a doctoral candidate in organizational leadership and learning, Platz said he has a certain view of his desired role of the director of public safety. Platz said he want to develop each officer in public safety into a leader.

“It lets them know they can make decisions and be a member of the community themselves,” he said.

In addition to letting officers know they can make their own decisions, Platz said, his view of the office as part of the community extends to communication with other offices and students.

A large duty for the Office of Public Safety is ensuring compliance with federal guidelines and regulations, including the Clery Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Violence Against Women Act and the SaVE Act.

“We need to communicate well with the Title IX office, and that is something a lot of campuses have issues with,” Platz said. “The public safety department plays a large role in those requirements, but we can’t do it alone.”

Following his presentation, which ended with a brief question and answer session, Platz said he looks forward to the results of the search and hopes to be selected as the new director.

“I’m not looking to leave any time soon, as long as you’ll have me,” he said.