Since the disappearance of freshman John Fiocco Jr. one year ago, the College has implemented 24-hour swipe access for all residence halls. In October, at least 1,000 students signed a petition protesting “excessive vigilance” by Campus Police officers, including aggressive searches by campus security officers.
Although some students believe these changes to the College’s security policies this year are connected to the loss of Fiocco, other students and school administrators disagree.
“Alcohol and security policies were not changed because of (Fiocco’s) tragic death,” Matt Golden, director of Communications and Media Relations, said via e-mail. “Institutional policies impact everyone in this campus community, so it would be irresponsible to base them on isolated incidents, especially ones where all the facts are not known.”
He said the heavy media presence on campus last spring was partly responsible for the new swipe access policy.
“After (Fiocco) disappeared, reporters were trying to sneak into Wolfe and were harassing students who lived there,” Golden said. “Those students asked us to implement 24-hour swipe access in order to keep the press away. We did so and, in the process, learned that our technology had improved and could allow for 24-hour swipe access without greatly impeding student travel between buildings.”
College President R. Barbara Gitenstein said she was resistant to implement 24-hour swipe access even immediately following Fiocco’s disappearance, but enough students and parents were in favor of it to change her mind.
“People convinced me that there were enough people that wanted this for the sense of comfort,” she said.
Gitenstein noted that the policy is still a “pilot project” that will be evaluated at a later time. But as far as Gitenstein is concerned, she still has her reservations.
“I think we should be an open campus,” she said. “I think in general this is a safe campus.”
The swipe access policy is not entirely popular for students either. Max Marshall, sophomore international studies major, who helped organize the student petition and protest of Campus Police in October, said in a recent e-mail that “the card swipes on the doors do not prevent intruders from entering buildings, they only make it inconvenient for students with their hands full to get to their rooms.”
Golden said swipe access improves security “to a degree” and that he understands the inconvenience. “Whenever you tighten security, it will create some inconvenience. For the College, the goal is to strike the right balance,” he said.
James Gant, executive vice president for the Student Government Association (SGA) and Campus Police liaison, said in a March 7 interview that policing this school year was as aggressive as it had been in previous years. He said that it only seemed more aggressive after last spring, when Campus Police officers were involved in the Fiocco investigation and focused less energy on issuing tickets and searching students suspected of transporting alcohol underage.
Gant said a Campus Police employee told this to the ad-hoc Committee on Campus Police in one of the committee meetings, which Gant co-chaired.
Emily Weiss, communications officer for Public Affairs, said “the on-duty shift of officers was still responsible for its normal day-to-day patrolling and tasks” during the investigation.
“Campus Police led the initial investigation,” she said via e-mail. “As the scope of the investigation grew, the New Jersey State Police and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office became the leading investigative agencies for the case. Campus Police continued . assisting these agencies with the investigation.”
“Many students perceived the vigilance (this fall) to be in part because of the (Fiocco) situation. This was a perfectly logical assumption by students,” Michael Levy, former SGA vice president of Administration and Finance, said, noting that he also thought it played a part.
“It’s impossible to know how the events of last spring impacted individual Campus Police officers, in terms of their level of concern for students,” Golden said. “What I do know is that there was no policy change leading to more aggressive enforcement.”
Steve Viola, who sat on the ad-hoc committee with Gant, three faculty senate members and three staff senate members, said there was “zero correlation” between Campus Police aggressiveness and Fiocco. The committee examined Campus Police operations and its relationship with the campus community.
“The problems were always there,” Viola said. “There is a large disconnect between Campus Police and the College community.”
The committee, which held its last meeting on March 5, has drafted a 40-page report for Gitenstein detailing problems with Campus Police and suggesting changes. The report was written after months of researching and hearing testimony from Campus Police leadership and school officials.
Marshall said he would like to see more comforting security measures taken by the administration, such as installing cameras at residence hall entrances.
“We do use video surveillance in some buildings,” Golden said, “but we do not disclose where. Doing so would only weaken security. . The College consults regularly with an array of law enforcement agencies, so we can stay abreast of what’s happening in the field. That allows us to make sure our security procedures are up to date and as effective as possible.”