Senior News Writer
On their first week back on campus this semester, Aspen Rush ’22 and their friend were on a late-night walk near the forested-area between Bornhuetter Hall and the softball diamond. In the night’s darkness, Rush claims that around five Security and Protective Services (SPS) officers followed and “attempted to corner” them. When the officers asked what they were doing out so late at night, Rush reportedly explained that they were going on a walk. According to Rush, the officers then took their C.O.W. IDs and reported the friends to dispatch, informing them that they were “very suspicious” and asked to search them. Rush refused, and the confrontation concluded with the officers telling the two that they would “likely file a report,” leaving Rush unclear of what the report would be.
Concerns about SPS at The College of Wooster have grown in the past two years. During the summer of 2020, the College community members started a campaign on change.org called “No Cops on C.O.W.;” The petition states, “The College of Wooster’s relationship with the Wooster Police Department and its own [SPS] Department puts the lives of Black and brown students in danger and makes the College of Wooster community less safe.” In total, the petition calls for the College to “disentangle policing from our community and KEEP COPS OFF CAMPUS.” The petition currently has 1,336 signatures.
Saeed Husain ’20, a resident assistant at the College had a similar experience to Rush on Nov. 25, 2020, at 9:30 p.m. when three security officers “aggressively spoke to [his] friend” about his car being parked in the front of Kenarden Lodge. Husain acknowledged that parking here is not allowed, but he claims that one officer “patronizingly lectured” his friend for placing his car there. Saeed remarked this event as embarrassing, outrageous and unacceptable. Husain is “confident” that Nathan Fein, Director of Residence Life, reported these concerns to Joe Kirk, the Associate Director of SPS. However, Husain stated that he has not received a response from Kirk.
Additionally, Rachel Catus ’22 told the Voice that she had a “super dismissive” experience with SPS. Catus lives in a program house along Spink Street, an area that is home to a large stray cat population. On Feb. 28, a dead cat lay in one of the College’s parking lots near the street. Catus and others contacted SPS to remove the cat from the vicinity, only to be “dismissed” and told to wait until the following Monday to call groundskeeping. Catus reflected on the event, stating, “It was just very frustrating considering that SPS clearly has time to deliver donuts to sorority girls on campus, but you actually call them for help and get dismissed. We ended up just disposing of the body ourselves using a snow shovel and bags.”
When asked what training procedures and requirements security officers go through at the College, Director Kirk told the Voice that two departmental supervisors and himself “review every application and send [the applicant] an initial email with the job description to determine if they are still interested in the position after learning the shift that is open and the pay rate for the position.” Security positions are advertised by Human Resources in a number of newspapers and on job sites.
If a candidate is interested, then SPS conducts an interview, which focuses on the following: why they are interested in security, why on a college campus, what diversity means to them and what experience they have working in a diverse environment. Before COVID-19, SPS had candidates visit campus and conduct a scenario-based interview.
Kirk explained, “We want to see how the candidate interacts with the student actors, what their observation skills were, how they handle the things found in the room.” Due to COVID-19, SPS now has “the candidate interview with current officers, [the] dispatcher, and other administrators.”
When hired, Kirk mentioned that “the new officer is put through six weeks of training before they can start a shift on their own. Officers must complete a training checklist to pass before they serve at the College. Supervisors and Kirk are regularly updated on new officers’ weekly training progress. While most officers complete training regimens for other security positions outside of Wooster, Kirk identified that “it is important during their training that they understand what is expected of them here.”
In a six-month period, SPS officers are also required to take training programs consisting of Safe Zone, several FEMA training programs on responding to emergency disasters, CIT (Crisis Intervention Training — dealing with issues of mental health), QPR training, which also deals with responding to mental health crises, Fire Safety training, First Aid[,] CPR training and Hazmat training. Kirk noted that COVID-19 has required additional training procedures.
With the pandemic comes more responsibilities for SPS. When the pandemic broke out in the United States last March, Kirk noted that SPS’s 24-hour office “had to answer a number of questions for different offices, accept packages and respond to visitors.” Additionally, security “conduct[s] a lot more transporting of students to places of isolation and quarantine.” He continued, “We had to at times deliver meals, packages and other items to students in isolation and quarantine. We had a lot more meetings about what to do, how to do them and maintain the highest level of health and safety.”
When told that some students describe security officers’ actions as embarrassing, dismissive and unacceptable, Kirk stated, “I am greatly concerned when I hear students describe our department as being embarrassing, super dismissive and unacceptable. I would like to hear about those concerns directly so I can determine if it is multiple staff members or one in particular.” Kirk added, “All students are welcome to reach out to me directly with any questions or concerns that they might have about the department, actions of my staff or a policy that they are unsure of. I know that some students have reached out to Scot Council to express their concerns. I meet with a member of Scot Council every other week to talk about a variety of issues and student concerns is one of them.”
Kirk has been the Director of SPS since last August, and it is his mission to “change and reshape the image of the department.” He says, “I believe that I have a good team here but there is work that needs to be done.”