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Critical report faults University security

By Austen Hufford, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 21, 2012

A report released Friday that served as a catalyst for the reorganization of major campus security programs into the new Division of Public Safety and Security exposed long-term tensions and lack of cooperation between the University’s Department of Public Safety and the other two major security agencies on campus, Housing Security and Hospitals & Health Centers Security.

Margolis Healy & Associates, a Vermont-based security consulting firm, was hired by the University’s Board of Regents to conduct a study of the University’s security agencies following the discovery that administrators within the University of Michigan Health System delayed reporting the alleged possession of child pornography by former medical resident Stephen Jenson to police for six months.

At the regents meeting on Friday in Flint, the creation of DPSS was formally announced in response to the study’s recommendation for organizational changes to the structure of the three units in order to eradicate ongoing issues.

DPSS will encompass DPS, Housing Security and Hospitals & Health Centers Security, and be led by an executive director who reports directly to the University president. Current DPS executive director Joe Piersante will assume the positions of DPSS executive director as well as police chief until a national search for a DPSS executive director is completed.

The report, which was originally estimated to cost the University $105,000, showed that in many instances, DPS, Hospital Security and Housing Security do not cooperate effectively. Specifically, it reported a “systemic lack of mutual respect and appreciation” between Hospital Security and DPS.

“The lack of a healthy working relationship between the three organizations contributes to confusion, misunderstanding, miscommunication (and) a lack of trust and respect,” the study said.

DPS, also known as University Police, is an accredited, armed police force composed of sworn officers who serve as the primary police on campus. Housing Security and Hospital Security are composed of trained but non-armed, non-sworn officers who protect residence halls and hospital buildings, respectively.

The report compared the University’s security operations to those at eight other universities, including Ohio State University and the University of Chicago. In contrast to the University of Michigan’s results, when distinct units were present at other schools, they were observed to be more efficient and cooperative.

However, many used their official university police force to fill the distinct roles of the University’s divided DPS, Housing Security and Hospital Security.

The report noted there is no formal organizational connection between the branches, and the director of each reports to a different division within the University, claiming this negatively affects their respective duties and creates a disconnect among the three groups.

The study said each individual unit was “well-run, professional and efficient,” but as a whole the three do not coordinate effectively.

It also stated that while individually the units tried to ensure safety, there was an “absence of a shared overall vision for public safety,” noting that unit goals differ greatly.

The report also noted that students and staff may not understand the differences between the three units, considering officers from all three departments refer to themselves as public safety officers.

Specifically, members of the campus community are reported to have in many cases believed they were speaking with sworn University police officers and filing official police reports, but they were actually dealing with non-sworn Housing or Hospital Security officers.

Confusion about the role of Hospital Security officers was cited in the University’s internal audit of the delay in reporting Jenson’s possession of child pornography, where several staff members said they believed they were being interviewed by University Police when in fact the investigators were Hospital Security officers.

The report also noted that only one in three resident advisors interviewed knew the difference between Housing Security and DPS. One in ten of those interviewed did not know the University has its own police force. Many of them believed the Ann Arbor Police Department responds to incidents in the residence halls.

The report said Housing Security worked better with DPS than Hospital Security regularly does. It acknowledged that Housing Security did not hesitate to request assistance from DPS when needed and that when DPS arrived, Housing Security let officers take control while continuing to provide assistance.

The assessment said many of those interviewed in the Division of Student Affairs — which oversees University Housing — viewed DPS as more of an on-call service than a partner in ensuring the safety of the residence halls. Staff members also expressed concern at the presence of armed police officers within halls.

“We don’t need or want police in the buildings… no guns patrolling the hallways,” one staff member said.

There were clear and persistent problems with the relationship between Hospital Security and DPS, which the report alleged stemmed from the differing approaches of each organization. The report noted that Hospital Security focuses on safety and customer satisfaction, while DPS is primarily concerned with law enforcement.

UMHS staff had a positive view of Hospital Security and its professionalism, the study said. Many hospital employees interviewed for the study said they viewed Hospital Security as an important member of the UMHS team and viewed DPS as “pushy and intimidating.”

The report noted that many DPS staff members do not view Hospital Security as a helpful ally in law enforcement. Hospital Security officers also expressed concern with their police counterparts, noting that many DPS officers appeared condescending and heavy-handed.

“We are always under attack by DPS and we do not know why. They do not look at us as a valuable resource/partner,” Hospital Security officers told the investigators.

Many hospital employees said DPS did not respect UMHS protocols. The report said on multiple occasions that when DPS officers became impatient they threatened UMHS staff with obstruction of justice charges.

Concerns regarding DPS officers carrying firearms in hospital buildings were also a common issue noted in the report. The Hospital Security department prefers to operate within a weapons-free zone, which has caused some security officers to question DPS personnel about retaining their firearm while in the building.

However, many DPS officers said they felt they were unfairly targeted, alleging that armed Michigan State Police troopers and Ann Arbor Police officers were not asked to remove their weapons, while DPS officers were.

The report's authors applauded DPS for their sophisticated training and professionalism, but expressed concern that DPS focuses too much on “old-style” policing, which may be the root of the problems arising in Hospital and Housing Security.

“The Department of Public Safety is focused more on law enforcement, criminal interdiction and arrests than on a broader role as steward of the safety and security of the campus,” the report stated.

The report further noted: “DPS police officers appear to be directing their attention towards validation from the greater law enforcement community and away from their focus on serving a university community as a community-oriented campus public safety organization.”

On Friday, a report by the University’s Safety and Security Steering Committee was also released explaining the progress of the University’s management response to an internal audit of the child pornography incident.

Many of the responses to the http://www.michigandaily.com/news/officials-react-internal-report-delay-... >internal audit also answer concerns expressed in the Margolis Healy assessment, which was largely conducted in April.

The committee said it has addressed the recommendations made in the internal audit, adding that it informed many University employees about their responsibility to report suspected crimes.

Since early April, assigned DPS liaison officers have been required to contact the Hospital Security shift supervisors daily during the day and afternoon shifts, according to the committee report. The committee said it also implemented cross-unit training and team-building exercises between units.

The committee also noted that the University’s 911 system has changed. Previously, 911 calls made in University hospital buildings would go to a hospital emergency operator who would then dispatch Hospital Security officers if needed. Those officers would then decide if contacting DPS was necessary.

Under the new system, DPS is able to monitor all 911 calls to the Hospital emergency center and can be patched in as necessary.

The committee also authorized the creation of shared databases between the three units. This allows each unit to access security reports and dispatch information from one another more easily. While the system is currently not updated in real time, the committee said that feature will be implemented by next month.

The regents released a statement Friday condemning the lack of communication between the security organizations and vowing to fix the problem, mainly through the creation of the DPSS.

“The relationships and communication between the University’s Health System Security and the Department of Public Safety are broken and demand repair,” the statement said. “There must be a University-wide system that guarantees timely and effective communication of potential serious misconduct, as well as the safety and security of all of our University constituencies.”

— Ariana Assaf contributed to this report.


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