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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.