UR addresses new era of campus security

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This year, the University of Rochester’s commencement weekend looked a little different. Alongside the regular festivities celebrating the graduating class, there was a noticeable security presence sporting distinctive bright red polos—employees of Patriot Protection and Investigations, a Rochester-based private security firm. 

The scene reflected a shift occurring across the nation as universities grappled with security issues in the light of student protests.

“The university will utilize contract security agencies at times throughout the year to supplement public safety services on the institution’s properties, and to assist (the Department of Public Safety) as needed during special events or with other unique needs,” says Sara Miller, UR spokesperson. “Additional security was brought in (during commencement) to help ensure the safety of campus visitors, families and students.”

UR students first began to spot individuals wearing PPI uniforms just days after members of the Gaza solidarity encampment and Students for Justice in Palestine staged a sit-in at Wallis Hall. Students asked the university to academically divest from Israel and lift interim bans on students for their participation in the encampment. 

“The contracted security supplemented DPS officers’ work and was an additional measure of safety preparedness given the high number of disruptions at campus ceremonies and events throughout the country,” Miller says.

Run by former Greece police chief Andrew Forsythe and former Greece police sergeant Jared Rene, PPI launched in 2022, months after Forsythe’s resignation from the Greece Police Department. (Forsythe had crashed his town-owned vehicle into a guardrail and did not receive a sobriety test at the scene. He later pleaded guilty to driving while ability impaired and leaving the scene of an accident where there was property damage.)

PPI currently has 38 licensed guards, New York Department of State records show, with 35 having received the necessary training to use guns and three who have not. Most of them have extensive history in local law enforcement. 

Forsythe says PPI has been “keeping itself busy” and has seen consistent business in the years since its inception. The firm markets itself as a premium service for Greater Rochester. Staff have been spotted at the Rochester International Jazz Festival as well.

“We have clients not only in Rochester, but in other areas as well. … We’re a little bit different than most security companies in Rochester because most of the people employed by us are retired or active law enforcement,” Forsythe says. “Their skill sets are far more advanced than a regular security guard.”

Despite the tension on campus, PPI’s presence came as a shock for some students and faculty, says Somes Schwinghammer, chair of internal affairs for UR’s Students for a Democratic Society.

“The Faculty Senate was not informed that there were armed officials on campus,” Schwinghammer contends. “The student government was not informed that there were armed officials on campus.” 

“I did not receive notice, from a student government perspective, that there were going to be outside armed officers on campus. That was news to me,” says Elijah Bader-Gregory, then vice president of Students’ Association Government. 

Upon hearing of the firm’s presence on campus, he contacted members of the UR administration who confirmed that PPI was contracted to both monitor the campus as well as assist existing security during commencement. 

Schwinghammer also says faculty members, who had previously opposed allowing UR’s DPS officers to carry arms, felt as though the administration had responded by supplementing UR security staffers with armed security.  

“This was basically admin hiring the private militia behind faculty’s backs, and students’ backs, of course, to surveil their own students,” Schwinghammer says.

Miller says the university supplements DPS coverage with “a combination of New York State licensed armed and unarmed private and contract security,” with armed security primarily used when high-profile individuals are in attendance, such as dignitaries and elected officials. 

Recent events aside, improving on-campus security has been on UR’s to-do list. At the start of the academic year, UR’s Public Safety Officers Association expressed its desire for peace officers, a branch of the university’s campus police, to be armed due to their proximity to crime in areas neighboring the college. 

DPS has 200 support staff and peace officers. A peace officer has the authority to make arrests within UR properties and areas immediately adjacent to university boundaries, UR officials say. Private security personnel assist these operations primarily through crowd and event surveillance, says Miller, “and will call upon a DPS officer to address an emerging situation and incident that requires immediate attention.”

Fortifying campus security is part of a broader movement at universities nationwide following pro-Palestine protests. For instance, the University of California, Los Angeles recruited Rick Braziel, a former chief of the Sacramento Police Department, to lead the new Office of Campus Safety, while the University of Indiana put in place increased security measures to prevent disruptions to commencement.

Consultant Margolis Healy’s report on campus security nationwide, “Making Campuses Safe: Emerging Threats, Technologies, and Solutions,” further illustrates the growing demand for campus security to redefine their aims in order to better address the needs of those they serve.

Healy spent several months with UR administration and related faculty to examine the existing capabilities of DPS as well address policy recommendations to better empower the university’s security.

“Amid that swirl of growing demands and differing perceptions of how they should do their jobs, campus police and safety leaders are often asked to do more without new money or more staff,” the report states.

The report, which was commissioned by the Chronicle of Higher Education, found that college leaders believe that both police and security personnel are doing a good job of protecting their campuses, and faculty, staff and students feel secure. However, college-safety officers often have to do more with less, the report finds. It will take a comprehensive approach—with technology and manpower—to meet the demands of today.

With an eye toward a new public safety era, UR has named Quchee Collins as its first associate vice president for DPS and chief public safety officer, effective next month. The role was created in tandem with the university’s Five Point Campus Safety Plan “to enhance campus safety and ensure inclusive, fair and equitable security practices across the institution.” 

Quchee Collins (Photo: UR)

Collins has worked at the City University of New York, where he led more than 1,000 sworn and civilian personnel as deputy director of public safety. Before his role at CUNY, he served as the police chief for New York City’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

“His expertise in overseeing safe and secure operations for large facilities across the five boroughs of New York City will be invaluable for our work at the Medical Center, which is a large campus with many off-site locations used by faculty, staff, students, learners, patients, and visitors,” said Kathy Parrinello, who takes over and president and CEO of Strong Memorial Hospital on July 1, at Collins’ appointment.

Collins will report to Elizabeth Milavec, UR executive vice president of administration and finance, chief financial officer and treasurer. 

“Through collaborative leadership, strategic planning, and stakeholder engagement, the university looks forward to ushering in a new modern era of holistic, community-engaged public safety under Collins’ leadership,” said UR President Sarah Mangelsdorf. “This includes prioritizing transparency and the continuation of open communication between Department of Public Safety personnel and our students, staff, faculty, visitors, and local residents.”

Narm Nathan is a Rochester Beacon intern and senior at the University of Rochester. Henry Cramer is a Rochester Beacon intern and a rising junior at UR. Both are members of the Beacon Oasis Project’s inaugural cohort. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

One thought on “UR addresses new era of campus security

  1. “This was basically admin hiring the private militia behind faculty’s backs, and students’ backs, of course, to surveil their own students,” Schwinghammer says.

    A discussion about having outside security and whether they should be armed is legitimate, especially since the U of R does not allow the peace officers it employs carry firearms on campus. But the kind of rhetoric Somes Schwinghammer used isn’t helpful. Security guards hired for an event is hardly a militia hired to “surveil” the student the student body.

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