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Public Safety Has the Campus Covered

1,032: number of calls received by Public Safety from people locked out of campus buildings.
61: number of Public Safety responses to medical emergencies on campus.
11: number of unusual odors on campus investigated by officers.
457: number of times Public Safety has provided rides for people.
22: number of stolen items recovered by Public Safety.

In the course of a typical year, these numbers reflect only a fraction of the ways in which Smith’s 18 full-time Public Safety officers might spend their shifts: letting a distraught student into her house, responding to calls for help, keeping the campus safe.

With at least three officers on shift 24 hours a day, patrolling every section of the campus, the Department of Public Safety maintains an environment that is vastly safer than that beyond Smith’s boundaries.

While every Smith officer, as a requirement for hire, completes a 16-week training course at the Special State Police Academy and each holds full powers to arrest perpetrators, most of their duties involve helping people. Each officer is also trained in emergency medical response and CPR.

“These officers are trained as well or better than your hometown cops,” says Scott Graham, assistant director of Public Safety, now in his 24th year in the department. “The days of security guards are long gone.”

Though Smith’s Public Safety officers may not encounter criminals as often as a city police officer might, they take their jobs just as seriously and recognize that a college setting poses its own challenges.

For example, they know that thousands of parents, many of them thousands of miles away, send their children to Smith with the expectation that they will be watched over and kept safe. And providing safety for a campus with more than 3,000 people (including those occupying the college’s rental properties) during the academic year can be stressful.

“Every shift at every point can have a crisis,” says Graham, “medical or otherwise. There are some moments when your adrenaline gets going. It doesn’t matter what shift it is.”

“Also,” adds Sharon Rust, director of Public Safety, “we always have to know what to do and why we’re doing it. We’re always accountable.”

Public Safety officers work in four overlapping eight-hour shifts. Their time is spent mostly on patrol, either walking a beat in one of three campus zones or driving the campus’ roads in the cruiser and responding to crises as they occur. One officer is always stationed at the office front desk.

Because Public Safety officer deal primarily with a student population, the types of crises they encounter remain consistent. “We deal with the same age group, 18 to 22, over and over again,” notes Graham. “The challenges here are the same as you’d find with that age group anywhere.”

The number of arrests made by officers is relatively small, perhaps a couple a month. More often, their jobs involve removing unwanted guests from campus, checking out fire alarms (more than 100 a year), responding to medical emergency calls and investigating reports of suspicious persons or activity on campus.

Community outreach is an important part of Public Safety’s mandate, and the department holds several educational sessions during the year. Two officers conduct self-defense training for students. Rust and Graham hold a periodic orientation for new students and staff. Officers will also conduct small seminars in student houses and will schedule special meetings by request. “We’re as much [a part] of the educational process as any other office on campus,” says Graham. “We are educators.”

As with all jobs, some parts of the year are more fraught with tension than others. The high-stress times for Public Safety personnel are the “big weekends,” says Graham, such as opening and closing weekends, those with big-name concerts, and -- one of the busiest -- last month’s Halloween weekend, during which Talbot House hosts its notorious “Immorality” party.

Despite the stresses of the job, safe-guarding the college has its share of rewarding moments, says Rust, such as when her department successfully recovered tens of thousands of dollars worth of science equipment stolen from Smith. “It was enjoyable to be able to return the property stolen from the Science Center,” Rust says, citing 15 high-tech microscopes that were recently recovered.

Getting to know students and making friends with faculty and staff members is another benefit to working at Smith, agree Rust and Graham, who between them have served the college for nearly 50 years.

In a job that often goes unappreciated by people in the community, Rust says a little recognition goes a long way, and she and her colleagues take special note when a staff or faculty member compliments them on a job well done.

“When a community member recognizes what you’re doing, that you’re doing good work for the campus and caring for the community that you’re serving,” says Rust, “that’s a rewarding part of the job.”

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