Walkie-talkies are beeping and conference rooms are buzzing as John Ritchie, assistant director of the Department of Public Safety, intently scans through statistics on his computer screen. The results are in for the department’s recent online safety survey, and Ritchie knows that every detail of the report could hold clues to how he and his fellow officers can better serve the Fairfield community.

“It gives us a benchmark of how we’re serving the community. We have our perspective of things, but sometimes our perspective isn’t the important one,” Ritchie says of the DPS Survey that students, faculty and staff were recently encouraged to participate in. The DPS Survey is the first one of its kind in the past 10 years, its aim being to evaluate the performance of the department and to better understand Public Safety’s role on campus.

“It used to be all on paper. You can imagine a bunch of Public Safety officers standing around, asking you to fill out paper surveys,” Ritchie jokes.

[poll id=”20″]

Compared to the roughly one-hundred responses the department got back then, this year’s over 1,000 responses have taught the department not only that community members are more likely to partake in an online survey, but that students, faculty and staff all feel they have a stake in the services that Public Safety provides

The demographics of the survey are reflective enough of the campus community to provide an accurate depiction of community opinion, according to Ritchie. The survey was generally broken into two sections: one survey for students, and another for faculty and staff. Appropriately, the majority of respondents (61 percent) were full-time undergraduate students, although part-time and grad students also participated in the survey. Full-time staff represented the second-largest group of respondents.

One glaring statistic is that 66 percent of the respondents are female. “We expected more females to take the survey for a number of reasons, one being the female population is greater on campus than the male population, “ Ritchie said. “Two, let’s face it, guys aren’t apt to really get involved in certain things and women are more apt to want to speak their minds, so to speak.”

The survey results are in statistical form. So to uncover some of the issues, the department had to read between the lines and refer to written comments that respondents included.

Parking

One of the biggest issues that came up for faculty, staff and students is parking on campus.

The largest percentage of interaction with DPS was for vehicle registration, at 37 percent. However, only 35 percent of those surveyed felt that parking rules and regulations are clearly defined. There has always been disputes over parking, but the recent changes in parking rules for this school year makes this area of the survey particularly important, according to Ritchie.

“Parking has always been a concern for our department. Everyone who’s on campus physically, right now, knows that parking is taking a big turn from where we’ve been to where we’re going,” says Ritchie.

“There’s always been a long-term master plan for the University to kind of move all parking lots to the outer perimeter so the core of campus is very pedestrian friendly…There’s a lot of things that the University as a whole is trying to look at, how can parking, road configurations boost the community in the future. And of course, creating a pedestrian friendly atmosphere enhances the campus community. Getting in the car and rolling up your windows decreases the community as a whole,” he adds.

While this is an admirable goal, Ritchie understands why students may be resistant to changes in parking and vehicle registration.

Some students surveyed suggested that the amount of ticketing is nothing more than a money scheme.

Ritchie disputes such statements: “Ticketing is not a money-making scheme. Ticketing is really geared toward compliance at this point.”

“In other words, if a student lives at a townhouse and wants to drive to the library, every time they drive to the library they’re displacing someone who lives over at Kostka/Claver and the apartment buildings. So we’re getting complaints from those students…you don’t want me ticketing your car, but your friend who lives in Kostka doesn’t want you parking theirs, so how do we make you both happy? At some point we have to say that it’s not possible to make everybody happy,” says Ritchie

Student and faculty opinions on the parking issue were drastically different. According to Ritchie, faculty and staff largely commented that they are disappointed by reckless driving and non-compliance with parking rules on behalf of students. Students, on the other hand, generally feel that parking rules and regulations are unfair and that students should be given more privileges, according to comments made in the survey.

However, the rules and regulations statistic mentioned above may suggest that parking problems are more an issue of clarity than of compliance. With 35 percent of students unclear about parking rules, parking is the one area that Public Safety hopes to improve upon the most in the future.

“You’re the customer, and we’re still trying to please the customer,” says Ritchie. “For the first time ever, this particular year, we went with a more simplified parking brochure…The University had a company come in a couple years ago and survey campus, take a look at parking and parking lots, and statistically when you hear how much paved surface we have on our campus, it’s kind of astounding.”

“You realize that we’re a little over 25 percent of asphalt on our 200-acre campus. They’re looking at that asphalt footprint,” he adds.

This statement may seem contradictory to recent University decisions to remove 20 percent of the wooded area near the Quick Center to expand parking at the former Jesuit Residence. However, Ritchie says these decisions are out of the hands of Public Safety, leaving the department to juggle many opinions at once.

“In trying to make a bigger parking lot in the Quick Center, you have a group of people opposed to it, to the point that they’re willing to stand out in front of heavy machinery to prevent it from occurring. Yet, you have another group of people on campus saying ‘Cut down half the trees on campus and build more parking because I want to park next to my residence hall.’ This goes beyond our department…We’re just trying to do our job with what we have,” said Ritchie.

“Change is sometimes difficult—we can certainly appreciate that,” he says.  “The bottom line is, we really need the community to park where we’re asking them to park.”

Crime

Sections of the report dealing with crime follow the opinion of respondents that the campus is generally safe. Out of the 1,080 respondents, only 55 (or 7 percent) claimed to have been a victim of a crime during their time at Fairfield.

However, Ritchie finds it disappointing that 22 percent of these crimes went unreported, according to the survey. This is a trend that he says is not limited to Fairfield’s campus.

“We see that in society in general…it’s a little disappointing. We like to have more crimes reported. But we know that a lot of people don’t report crimes because they know that the likelihood of catching those responsible is slim to none,” says Ritchie.

Ritchie claims that the majority of campus crimes are crimes of opportunity — such as theft resulting from unlocked rooms — rather than violent crimes.

The ambiguous nature of these more common crimes makes it hard for Public Safety to pinpoint offenders. This statement seems accurate. In Public Safety’s most recent press report none of the 51 incident reports over the course of the week were violent crimes.

Timeliness

One area where the survey suggests Public Safety has faltered is in “timeliness of response.”

According to the survey, 33 percent of respondents felt that the department’s response to calls is merely satisfactory. Although Ritchie attributes this low rating to many factors, he still finds a long-response time unacceptable, and hopes that Public Safety can improve upon this point.

“Administratively, we’re not pleased to hear that there was any delay in response …but when you look at the time line, we average our response on campus to just a couple minutes in most cases,” said Ritchie, noting that most delays stem from the fact that patrols are out on another call, or from prioritizing cases.

“A possible fire is going to take priority over an escort, but an escort is always going to take priority over vandalism, for example,” he says.

This is the first year ever that the department has introduced work-study students to ease some of the burden of the obviously busy department, from the looks and atmosphere of the office. With phones ringing and walkie-talkies beeping constantly, and only one dispatcher, Ritchie hopes that the extra help in the office might help increase timeliness in the future.

Alcohol and Sanctions

Many of the anonymous comments that students wrote dealt with Public Safety’s handling of issues involving alcohol, and the possible judicial sanctions that follow.

“I always joke and say, you know what, if students didn’t drink on this campus, I wouldn’t have a job,” said Ritchie. His tone turns serious when he explains the implications of underage drinking on campus.

“We have to look at the behavior and say, you’re wrong for getting behind the wheel of a car if you’ve been drinking, and you’re wrong if you’re drinking so much that you’re putting yourself at risk of permanent damage or death,” he says.

Ritchie equates Public Safety’s obligation to hold students responsible for throwing parties where students have been intoxicated to dangerous levels to a bar’s legal responsibility to stop serving customers who are clearly intoxicated.

“…these are bad behaviors, and you do have to look at the host of those behaviors,” Ritchie says. However, this policy has caused problems in the past, problems that students pointed out in the comment section of the survey.

Many students don’t think it’s right that they feel the need to choose between having an intoxicated classmate taken to the health center and facing possible judicial sanctions themselves. The University has been struggling with this issue for years, according to Ritchie.

“Unfortunately, we feel it dissuades reporting. We don’t want it to be, but that’s the way it’s going. The University is trying to attack the drinking issue from multiple venues.”

According to Ritchie, the department’s hands are tied. For now, he can only hope that students will choose to do the right thing and take time to reflect on their decisions regarding alcohol.

“We want you to call us, absolutely. On the other hand, we’d rather you not get your buddies so bombed that we have to concern ourselves with that,” he says.

Customer Satisfaction

Although the survey indicates that respondents are generally very pleased with Public Safety’s overall attitude, accessibility, quality of service and professional conduct, Ritchie cannot help but nit-pick on the comments that suggest otherwise.

According to Ritchie, much like his experience interacting with some students on a Friday night people used some “choice words” in their comments: “It’s an anonymous survey, but sometimes I want to know who said that, and are they responding this way because they got in trouble. Or are they responding that way because they honestly believe that? I wish they had wrote why. I can’t respond to the comments without knowing why,” he says.

With a smile on his face and an easy-going demeanor, one might find it hard to blame Officer Ritchie for their citation after having a casual conversation with him. Ritchie says he always strives for politeness, and encourages all officers to do the same.

“We want to make sure our officers are polite to the students. I can dump your alcohol, but I’ll do it politely. You might call me every name in the book, and I’ve heard it all. It’s frustrating,” he said.

It seems that Ritchie and the other officers have their work cut out for them, juggling differing opinions to make people happy, enforcing campus rules, and dealing with intoxicated college students on weekend nights. It begs the question: why do this job?

“It’s still the right thing to do. I wish I had a dollar for every time somebody lied to me, I’d be a rich man,” Ritchie laughs. “I get lied to all the time. I get called names all the time. Even in the survey, people had some choice comments. But reading further you see all the ‘thank you’s’…and you remember why you do your job.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.