Allegheny finalizes three candidates for director of public safety


James B. Basinger presents his plans for Emergency Preparedness for the college on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019, in the Pelletier Library Collaboratory.

Allegheny College has been without a director of public safety since last year — now, Allegheny is looking at three final candidates  that may be the right fit for the position.

Three candidates for the director of public safety position visited campus to talk to the community and gave short presentations titled, “A Community Discussion on Emergency Preparedness for the 2020 College Campus.” The first candidate gave his presentation Thursday, Oct. 3, in the Pelletier Library Collaboratory. The other candidates presented Monday, Oct. 7, and Tuesday, Oct. 8. 

The first candidate, James B. Basinger, discussed safety initiatives he plans to enact on campus, along with ways to get public safety officers involved in the community. 

“I would like to get better lighting and more security cameras across campus to increase safety for students,” Basinger said. “I would also like to find ways to get some of the campus’s officers involved in the community at different events, to just have a better presence in that area.” 

As a member of the Meadville community, in addition to being a member of the Pennsylvania State Police for more than 25 years, Basinger said that community relations was an area he would focus on a great deal. 

“I really want to be able to have open conversations about what we as cops do,” Basinger said. “And I know at certain events or in certain places, community members won’t necessarily want cops there, so I would hope that we would be able to find ways to work around that.”

Basinger mentioned that there are always certain things that police have to do as a part of their job, and he hoped to make those aspects part of community conversation

Basinger added that he would like to have some officers at orientation too, to help out and to encourage students to “not prop open doors” during that time.

Basinger referred to a previous experience in Erie, in which an officer shot a resident. When that incident occurred, Basinger said he held a community meeting to discuss the event with community members before there was a press release. Basinger hopes to enact similar practices on campus if the need ever arises. 

Another candidate, Craig Samtmann, visited campus on Monday, Oct. 7, to discuss his views on college campus safety. 

“I’m not looking for something short term,” Samtmann said. “I would like to come here and grow with the college.” 

Samtmann described Meadville as “a nice, quaint town.”

“I am excited about possibly serving the Allegheny College community because of its national reputation of excellence and my broad experience to protect (Allegheny’s) continued success,” Samtmann said in an email to Dean of Students April Thompson. 

Samtmann’s top three concerns for the college included forcible sexual offenses, substance abuse and active shooter and workplace violence.

“I am actually surprised at the amount of sexual assaults here,” Samtmann said. “Hopefully, if I am selected, I will be able to reduce that and address that.” 

Samtmann’s additional concerns included suicide prevention, missing students, severe weather, bomb threats and civil disturbances. 

During a question and answer session, Professor of Communication Arts and Theatre Mark Cosdon asked Samtmann about his views on students’ right to protest, including students’ right to protest campus offices and organizations. 

“(Students) are certainly protected by law, freedom of speech and expression,” Samtmann said. “They cannot interfere with the normal operations of other people. That is the bottom line.”

Cosdon also questioned whether or not Samtmann believed college police officers should be armed. 

“In terms of armed or unarmed, it is all about training,” Samtmann said. “You can have an armed officer who does an outstanding job, but never pulls his weapon. You could also have an officer who was a bad hire and jumps the gun and blows things out of proportion.” 

Dean for Institutional Diversity Kristin Dukes asked Samtmann how he would build bridges with students of color who are distrustful of local law enforcement and public safety. 

“I did not know that was a problem (at Allegheny),” Samtmann said. “I know it is across the country in general. Again, that goes back to relationships, breaking down the barriers, communicating and building that trust. … What it comes down to is being able to walk the walk and talk the talk.”

Faculty also questioned Samtmann on his views about diversity and inclusion. 

The final public safety candidate that presented to Allegheny community members was Lynda Daher. Daher’s presentation focused on her plans for community policing and other visions for the college. 

“I tried to break it down into three different areas and roles that I could see working,” Daher said. “(Those are) education, communication and collaboration.” 

Referring to her experience as assistant dean of students and associate director of student emergency response systems at the University of Chicago, Daher focused most of her presentation on the communication aspect, discussing the possible creation of a safety app for student use, along with a social media presence. 

“We have to hit students where they are,” Daher said. “Most students get most of their information through social media and apps.”

Daher discussed an app she created at the University of Chicago in collaboration with the police department and counseling center to help students feel safer. Through the app, students can track where their friend is going if they feel the need as they head back to their dorm rooms. It also provides ways to send anonymous tips to officers, and provide maps of the campus to visitors. 

Daher explained another one of her initiatives — to increase mental health training to officers, along with finding ways to accomodate students with special needs and international students. 

“We want to look at our resources, not just here in the Allegheny College community but in the broader community,” Daher said. “(We want to) look at how we can partner to make sure that those resources are available to us if we need them.”

Daher added that one of her most important plans is collaboration with the surrounding community in ways that would benefit both the Allegheny and Meadville communities. 

Additionally Daher said that the overall goals would be to reduce risk on campus, protect Allegheny as an institution and to increase Informational Technology security, amongst others. 

“We’re talking about protecting people, we’re talking about protecting facilities,” Daher said. “Also something that’s very important is institutional reputation. … The people that go out and ask for donations — they’re interested in institutional reputation, and our students are as well.”

Daher offered an example: If Allegheny had a large amount of cheating scandals and other dishonest practices, a degree for a student might not mean as much. 

“We want to make sure that whatever we do, we take into consideration all of the things that are so important to this institution, to make sure that it stays this top notch selective institution that it is,” Daher said.

After Daher’s presentation, a discussion followed, and during the discussion Dukes asked a question about Daher’s focus on collaboration and how she planned on ensuring all officers collaborate with the community. Daher said that she would work on relationships between officers and the community and “build bridges all across campus.”

Daher added that she would always seek feedback from students. 

“I think that’s a critical piece that a lot of administrators kind of gloss over, but I’m always interested in engaging with students in all aspects of the work that I do,” Daher said. “I feel that your experience here on campus as a student is the motivating factor for why any of us are here.”