Allegheny College is currently searching for an individual to serve as its public safety director. As with other hiring initiatives the college has conducted, finalists for the position are asked to deliver a presentation to the campus community as part of the job application process.
On Nov. 16, Ray Collins stood in front of a group of staff and administrators in Quigley Hall’s Henderson Auditorium to take his turn at a presentation.
Gilly Ford, Allegheny College’s Title IX coordinator introduced Collins by describing his career background. Ford said Collins served for 27 years with the Pennsylvania State Police and has investigative experience and experience as a station commander.
“He rose to the rank of lieutenant within the state police,” Ford said. “He’s extensively trained in all aspects of law enforcement, and in the Federal Emergency Management Incident Command System.”
Collins, who retired from the Pennsylvania State Police in August 2018, said he wanted to do something else with his life.
“The one thing I did find out about myself is that I’m not very good in retirement,” Collins said. “Three months into this, I’m already looking for a new job.”
Collins said the last job he held with the state police was as a station commander in Meadville. As commander of the Meadville station, Collins was responsible for 20 municipalities and jurisdictions, and he commanded 49 officers and civilians.
“That’s a fancy term for a police chief, that’s what that is,” Collins said.
Before becoming a station commander, Collins said he was a sergeant supervising criminal investigations units. Collins has also been an instructor and the acting commander for both the northwest and southwest regions of the state police.
In his presentation, Collins discussed trends in campus policing as well as his vision for the future of the college’s public safety office.
Collins said his philosophy involved viewing campus safety as an integral part of the college selection process, along with factors such as cost and availability of the student’s preferred major.
“As a parent, can I sleep at night knowing my son or daughter is 500 miles away, and are they safe?” Collins asked. “And I think that’s a huge priority. I’m a parent, like most of you in this room, and I know safety’s the number one priority.”
This philosophy, Collins said, was why the Office of Public Safety was so important to the campus.
“We want to make sure that the first impression of every student, the first day they step foot on this campus, is that they’re in a safe, secure campus, and they feel like they fit in,” Collins said.
Collins said his idea of a good director of public safety is a trained leader who would create a nurturing campus environment and work to maintain partnerships with students, faculty and staff. One way to achieve such partnerships, Collins said, would be to develop community policing initiatives such as regular meetings with the leaders of student organizations.
“How do we give a voice to the Allegheny College community?” Collins asked. “You express your concerns, your priorities, so the Department of Public Safety understands what is important to the community.”
Collins said he viewed his initiatives as an effective way to accomplish his goal of bringing the community together.
“Talk is cheap,” Collins said. “You have to be able to convert your dreams into reality.”
Collins identified trends in community and campus policing which he felt were leading to a lack of mistrust of the police and decreased effectiveness. For him, one major trend was the manner in which many campus police forces were not out all over the campus, and were not very visible.
“People don’t understand our role as an observer and protector, and in this case, champion of students,” Collins said.
Collins fears such misunderstandings would lead to a lack of trust in the community and a feeling that police are unreliable.
“If we fail to act in a way that promotes safety and security, that corrects situations that are unsafe, then the message will be to the community that we’re allowing it to happen,” Collins said.
Ultimately, Collins said, such feelings would make the campus less safe.
“Why say something when you see something if nobody’s going to do anything about it?” Collins asked.
Collins also discussed what is an often hostile relationship between officers and the communities they police. Often, Collins felt police officers blamed the community as a whole for the incidents the officers responded to, which made the officers less willing to put in the work to implement sound community policing strategies.
“The community that they police, they see that as the problem,” Collins said.
Another area of emphasis for Collins was the challenge of maintaining a strong police force on a tight budget. He suggested one of the best ways to overcome such concerns would be to make the police force especially visible.
“If there are three of us working, there’s got to look like there are six of us,” Collins said. “We’ve got to be visible. We’ve got to be friendly.”
Collins emphasized community policing, describing it as a strategy that builds relationships between the officers and the citizens they protect.
“Community policing encourages assistance and support from the community, and allows the community to establish priorities for public safety concerns,” Collins said. “They tell us what is important to them, what are their concerns.”
Collins offered several strategies for how to improve Allegheny public safety, such as increasing non-confrontational student interactions and helping officers receive training in cultural awareness and how to combat gender discrimination.
“We also want to increase our training in the detection of signs of abuse, and where our obligations are,” Collins said. “I’m talking drug and alcohol abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse. I want our officers to be able to observe that and know what they’re looking at, the signs.”
Collins ended his presentation by offering suggestions about specific initiatives he would enact as director of public safety. He said he would start by sending all individuals with a college email address a community perception survey to discern what people most want to see from their public safety officers.
“The information that we gather from the survey, we’ll use it to improve our services and overall performance as a department of public safety,” Collins said.
Collins also suggested the office should hold regular and irregular meetings with students, such as a monthly meet and greet which he called “Coffee with Cops.”
“We have that opportunity to talk about issues on campus,” Collins said. “We could talk about campus life, we could talk about Gator athletics, it’s more of an opportunity for us all to sit down and talk and get to know each other as people over a cup of coffee.”
Collins proposed expanding links between the police department and the Meadville community through initiatives such as self-defense courses and neighborhood alliances with the Meadville residents living next to campus.
“I think it would be very good to knock on those doors, introduce yourself as the director of public safety, and say, ‘hey, problems? Issues? Concerns? What are your priorities? Let us be here to help you, okay?’” Collins said.
Another idea Collins proposed was a program through which officers would be assigned to a specific residence hall, and would be a resource for those residents to approach the Office of Public Safety with any concerns.
Collins also suggested offering students a chance to shadow the public safety officers by riding along with them in their cars. Additionally, he proposed revamping the college’s Gator Patrol Service.
“I think it really gives the students an opportunity to be out on campus, be our eyes and our ears, and to help us make sure we have a safe, secure campus environment,” Collins said.
Other initiatives Collins identified included safety forums for students as well as a motorist assistance service.
“The good health and well-being of a community is the responsibility of everyone in the community,” Collins said. “Through collaboration, communication, strong partnerships between the public safety department and the students, staff and faculty of Allegheny College, we can ensure a safe, secure, nurturing campus where everyone feels safe and fits in.”
Kristin Dukes, dean for institutional diversity, said she wanted to see the college’s next director of public safety be an individual who prioritized community policing.
“I believe strongly in a model of community policing, one where there is a partnership between law enforcement and the folks who are in the community, where there’s mutual trust, understanding, and goals,” Dukes said
Dukes also said she thought it was important for the college’s director of public safety to understand the difficulties surrounding interactions between law enforcement and the community, especially community members of color.
“Given the current and past conversations about law enforcement and their interactions with people of color in particular, I think it’s important that we have a public safety director who recognizes that tension, and is open to reaching out to those student populations, and also the faculty and staff of those populations, to kind of heal that hurt,” Dukes said.
Dukes said she liked the extent to which Collins focused on the supportive, instead of merely the prosecutorial role, of police.
“There was a recurring theme of ensuring that the campus is a nurturing, safe environment that everyone fits in, and I think that’s definitely in line with what we are and with what our priorities are as an institution as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion, and just excellence for everyone,” Dukes said.