A day in the life of a Public Safety officer


Hassan Javed

Public Safety’s service vehicles are parked behind their office space in Murray Hall.

From supervising events to providing medical care, the Office of Public Safety does a lot to help out on campus. With responsibilities ranging from locking and unlocking all of the buildings to helping students back into their dorms, their daily routine is never the same.
In order to understand the routine of Public Safety, it is important to understand their goals.
“Our primary role on campus is that of triaging incidents and ensuring students have access to the appropriate services,” said Public Safety Corporal Joe Johnston.
They fulfill these responsibilities in a number of different ways that change depending on the time of day and event.
There are three different shifts for Public Safety Officers: daylight, afternoon and midnight. The routine for each eight-hour shift starts in a similar way.
“In a typical day … the first thing we do is check our vehicle (to) make sure there is no flat tire and that the vehicle is equipped the way it should be,” said Johnston.
From there, officers meet for roll-call and discuss anything important for the day, such as ongoing events. Then they start on their tasks for the day. Daylight shift has “a lot more action,” Johnston said. There are a lot of people on campus during the day: students, faculty, staff and other community members. There are also a lot of vehicles moving, so the possibility of accidents occuring rises. The responsibility of officers on this shift is “to be out, be seen and make sure we are protecting everybody,” according to Johnston.
Things settle down on campus during the afternoon shift. Public Safety’s biggest responsibility is to check the security of the doors on campus. Officers split up to patrol the buildings and make sure that doors are properly locked. During this time they also unlock doors that are supposed to be open, such as the doors to Ford Chapel. Then, once these places close down, the officers go back to lock the doors and ensure that nobody is inside the buildings that should not be.
Life can get rowdier during the midnight shift. As the name suggests, the night shift watches over the campus at night. Sometimes not much happens — maybe there is a fire going on at the fire pit. Other times, officers get noise complaints and have to go to parties and ask them to quiet down. Sometimes they have to give a second warning but typically nothing happens after the initial visit.
Every once in a while, what Johnston describes as an “incident” occurs on campus. Incidents could be anything from a smoke alarm going off to robberies or assaults. On occasions like these, it is possible for the Meadville Police Department to get involved. Although all members of Public Safety are trained police officers, Johnston explained that they call the Police Department when “we feel there is any reason or a need for backup.”
For example, last week a student was caught breaking into a coach’s car on campus. The student was pinned down by the staff member until the police came and took them back to the station. In this case, the student was released the same day and returned the stolen change to public safety.
However, Johnston explained that the police getting involved on campus is relatively rare and only occurs “a handful of times per year.”
Meadville Police Chief Michael Tautin corroborated this in a Meadville Town Hall meeting on July 6. At this meeting, council members raised questions about the logistics of this new agreement and also the frequency with which the police department intervened on Allegheny’s campus.
“We’re down to very limited contact for the most part,” Tautin said.
At this meeting, council members looked over a new agreement which granted Allegheny Public Safety authority to “investigate, make arrests and file charges relating to the criminal conduct that occurs on the Allegheny College campus…”
This agreement also outlines circumstances during which the police would get involved on campus which includes but is not limited to: the illegal use of controlled substances, felony violation and misdemeanor one violations excluding theft. The agreement was adopted and approved by the council on July 6.
Another problem that can arise when incidents occur is the spread of misinformation on social media causing panic within the student body. One such example took place last February, wherein Public Safety had to send out a message to calm down students after a small bin fire was blown out of proportion due to false claims spread on social media. Public Safety Detective Kurt Sitler said that social media, “makes (our job) very difficult.” He used an analogy from a former high school principal, calling social media “the beast, and if you keep feeding the beast it just gets bigger and bigger.” In order to combat issues like this, Public Safety aims for honesty and transparency with students.
On the occasions that Meadville P.D. does get involved on campus, an investigation follows.
“The officers that responded initially that night do a report,” Sitler said. “The reports then turned over to me. Then I pick it up from there.”
Sitler joined Public Safety back in February 2022. On a typical day, he unlocks doors for students, helps with driving tests and a number of other tasks. However, whenever a larger situation arises, Sitler is tasked with following up on claims and completing an investigation.
In a typical investigation, after reading the report, Sitler follows up with interviews with all of the parties involved in the incident. He talks to the victim, alleged offender and any possible witnesses. In some cases, charges are pressed, however occasions like these are not common.
“We’re really not about (writing tickets),” Johnston said. “We’re really there to make sure that you understand if you need something, let us know.”
He acknowledged that the relationship between students and public security has not been the best but that “it takes time, and some energy, and some involvement from Public Safety to show that we are here to make sure that everybody stays safe.”
Recently, Public Safety has made some efforts to connect with students. During the 2020-21 school year, Director James Basinger conducted open office hours with Allegheny Student Government.
“We just want to show that we are a friendly face,” Johnston said.