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October 2015

Dear Villanova Community Members,

For the past two years, the University has been exploring whether Villanova’s Public Safety Department should become a police department. After prayerful reflection and extensive discussion, I recommended, and the Board of Trustees approved, establishing a University police department that will be armed. This means Villanova’s Public Safety Department will include a combination of security officers and police officers. The latter will have the same authority and undergo the same specialized training as those in public law enforcement.

Preparation for this change will begin immediately, and I anticipate that the first Villanova police officers will be in place by fall 2016. Upon completion, approximately 20 percent of the 75-member department will be police officers, which equates to two or three police officers per shift. This select group of officers will undergo extensive police academy training, and will carry firearms and other defensive equipment. All Public Safety personnel will receive conflict resolution, anti-bias and sensitivity training. I also am establishing an Oversight Committee that will report to Ken Valosky, Executive Vice President, to ensure that safeguards are in place and that appropriate policies and procedures are followed.

I understand that there is a wide range of opinions surrounding this topic, but the safety of our community is my top priority. We are extremely fortunate that Villanova has been a safe place, but we would be remiss not to consider what has been happening on college campuses across the country. These kinds of incidents threaten our safety—and peace of mind—making the need for enhanced campus protection essential.

Many in our community expressed to me how shaken they were two weeks ago with the threat to Philadelphia-area colleges and universities. My greatest fear is the loss of a member of our community, particularly as a result of violence on our campus. This decision simply comes down to protecting our community in a time when violent acts at educational institutions are on an alarming upward trend. That being said, I know that moving in this direction will not necessarily prevent senseless acts of violence, but it will make us more appropriately prepared to handle these type of situations.

This is a significant change for the University, and I did not make the decision lightly. I asked for input from our community through forums and surveys, and appointed a task force comprised of students, faculty, staff and administrators to explore this issue. The University also evaluated best security practices in higher education and hired an independent security consultant to assess the current public safety model. I thoughtfully reflected on the feedback, recommendations and information I received from these various sources, and concluded that creating a University police department is the best option for responding quickly to situations that threaten the safety of our community.

Our Public Safety Department does a wonderful job, yet members face significant challenges in responding to any type of emergency situation on campus. Simply put, as security officers, they can be hindered by traffic because they have no authority to provide an expedited response in an emergency situation. They also cannot communicate with responding police agencies to coordinate efforts and provide timely information, or protect themselves or community members in the event of an active shooter. Moving to a department that includes police officers eliminates these and other significant limitations.

It’s unfortunate, but having University police officers has become standard practice these days. Nearly 70 percent of college and universities have police officers on their campuses, and 94 percent of those officers are armed. While our location on the Main Line is considered relatively safe, Villanova is highly visible, and we have not been without incident the past few years. These factors, coupled with three train stations on campus and our close proximity to a major highway, set Villanova apart from our local peers and require a higher level of campus security.

Like most universities, we value and embrace an open campus, and host hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. However, we must not overlook the significant responsibility that comes with it. To preserve these characteristics, we must learn from events—some incredibly tragic—that have occurred at schools all over the country and adjust accordingly. I am confident that we must change, as other colleges and universities have, and put our Public Safety Department in a better position to keep our campus community safe.

In the near future, more information will be shared about this change. During the transition, I ask for your cooperation as we strive to make Villanova a safer and more secure environment. As always, this decision was made in the interest of doing what I believe is best for our entire community.

Sincerely,


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Fr. Peter Donohue, OSA
President   


How was the Villanova community engaged in this decision?

This decision was reached after more than two years of review, assessment and discussion, which included input from a wide range of the Villanova community. Four community forums explored whether the Public Safety Department should transition to a police department, and a survey was sent to the Villanova community to better understand opinions surrounding the topic. President Donohue also appointed a task force—chaired by Barbara Wall, Vice President for Mission and Ministry, and comprised of students, faculty, staff and administrators—to explore this issue. The University evaluated best security practices in higher education and hired an independent security consultant to assess the current public safety model. The University’s Board of Trustees also was highly engaged and well-informed during the entire process, having discussed the topic at four separate meetings.

What percentage of colleges and universities have a police department on campus?

Nearly 70 percent of colleges and universities have police officers on their campus, and 94 percent of those officers are authorized to use a firearm. Currently, 85 of the top 100 nationally ranked universities (by U.S. News and World Report) have an armed police force protecting their campus.

What are the limitations of the current Public Safety model?

The current Public Safety Department is made up of 75 employees who have a variety of responsibilities: patrol, investigations, parking enforcement, residence hall and building security, crime prevention, and special-event security. As part of their duties, Public Safety officers face inherent risks, and they must be appropriately prepared to respond quickly and effectively in an emergency situation. Currently, they do not have direct radio communication with local police departments, limiting communication during emergencies. They cannot use lights and sirens to quickly respond to emergencies, and they cannot stop, question or detain individuals without their full cooperation. They also cannot protect themselves or community members in an active-shooter or other dangerous situation, and do not have access to law enforcement databases that aid investigations. Moving to a Public Safety Department that includes police officers eliminates these important limitations.

What is the difference between a University police officer and security officer?

All University police officers will be required to undergo rigorous police academy training, which includes extensive physical and psychological screenings. Their responsibilities will include on-campus patrol, investigations and crime prevention. As police officers, they will have access to law enforcement databases and direct radio communication with local law enforcement. They will also be able to use lights and sirens to respond quickly to emergencies, and have the authority to stop, question and detain individuals. Only University police officers will carry firearms and other defensive equipment. University security officers will continue many of the current responsibilities of the Public Safety Department, including on-campus patrol; parking enforcement; and residence hall, building, gate and special-event security. During and after this transition, Villanova will continue to maintain a close working relationship with local law enforcement.

What is the defensive equipment that University police officers will carry in addition to firearms?

All police officers will undergo extensive police academy training, and will carry firearms and defensive equipment, including batons, handcuffs, bulletproof vests, pepper spray and body-worn cameras.

What is the extensive police academy training that police officers will have to undergo?

All University police officers will have to undergo the same specialized training as those in public law enforcement. The standard police academy training is a 22-week program that includes more than 770 hours of instruction. Police academy training tests physical and emotional readiness, and provides instruction in crisis management, criminal investigation, patrol, first aid, defensive tactics, and laws and procedures. In addition, all Public Safety Department officers will participate in ongoing conflict resolution, anti-bias and sensitivity training. These trainings enhance cross-cultural understanding, help identify and eliminate bias, and provide guidance for promoting fair and impartial policing.

What is the timeline for implementation?

Preparation for this change will begin immediately, with the first Villanova police officers anticipated to be in place by fall 2016. Upon completion, approximately 20 percent of the 75-member Public Safety Department will be police officers (approximately 19 officers). The remainder of the department will continue as security officers. It is anticipated that two or three police officers will work with campus security officers during any given shift. The full timeline for this transition will be established through a detailed implementation plan, which the University will develop in coordination with a leading independent security consultant.

What is the role of the Oversight Committee?

The Oversight Committee will be comprised of an independent group of Villanova community members, who will report to Executive Vice President Ken Valosky. Members of the committee will include representatives from the faculty, administration and students, with the committee functioning similarly to the University’s existing Academic Integrity Committee. The Oversight Committee will ensure that safeguards are in place and that appropriate policies and procedures are followed by the Public Safety Department.

The Oversight Committee will make recommendations to the Executive Vice President concerning the provision of police services to the University community; accept concerns raised by students, faculty and staff regarding the Public Safety Department’s handling of complaints; and provide input on programs and initiatives aimed at improving campus safety. This partnership will help optimize police resources on campus by providing insight into the needs of our community and by monitoring campus police activity.