Police look for leader

After a series of open forums held at the College, a final pool of candidates for the position of Police Chief/Director of Campus Security have been evaluated and questioned by members of the campus community.

A forum was held for each of the five candidates over the last two remaining weeks of the summer break, prior to the fall 2007 semester.

The creation of the Police Chief/Director of Campus Security position was a primary stipulation of a report issued by the ad hoc Committee on Campus Police. The report, which both examined and criticized the office of Campus Police, cited, among other flaws, “an absence of leadership from the top down” within the office. According to the report, the “flawed structural hierarchy” of the office could be remedied by the creation and filling of the Police Chief/Director of Campus Security position.

The first open forum was held for H. Thomas Kelly, undersheriff at the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, on Aug. 13. In a telephone interview, Kelly said he would bring 31 years of police experience to the position, including eight years of chief experience in the Bernards Township Police Department, rising to the rank of chief. He said, “There is a lack of leadership at the top of the (College’s) police department” and that this is “an extreme problem.” Kelly said strong leadership will enable the “free flow of information” required for effective community policing.

Steven M. Cozza, lieutenant and administrator of Police Operations in the Borough of Bound Brook, was the focus of the second open forum on Aug. 14. Cozza, in a telephone interview, said he would bring “youth, enthusiasm and maturity” to the position. Cozza emphasized that the office of Campus Police is a service, not a department, and that “attitudes need to change” while maintaining an optimum level of security.

The third forum, featuring Capt. Edmund Johnson, took place on Aug. 20. Johnson has worked 23 years for the Rutgers University Police Department. He has an extensive background in community policing. Johnson touted the importance of networking between residence education and housing staff, the Ewing Township Police Department and other members of the campus community.

During Johnson’s forum, Lorenzo Shockley, a Campus Police officer, said some officers may have become frustrated with the lack of traditional police work, prompting them to take it out on members of the campus community.

Johnson said this was “something that should not exist” as part of community policing.

The next forum, featuring commanding officer of the Lincoln Tunnel John M. Collins, was held on Aug. 21. Collins has worked for the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York for 27 years. In the process, he was involved in the counterterrorism unit and was a leader on the World Trade Center Disaster Rescue and Recovery Team.

Collins said that many issues described in the ad hoc committee’s report “boil down to lack of direction and not enough purpose.”

The final candidate forum featured Chief Robert Coulton of the Ewing Police Department on Aug. 22. Coulton has 24 years of experience with the Ewing Police Department, the last eight as chief. Coulton is also an adjunct professor of criminal justice at the College and lives a block away from campus.

Coulton said many of the problems identified in the ad hoc committee’s report could be resolved by “having a strong leader come in.”

Patrice Coleman-Boatwright, associate vice president for Public Affairs, served as the chair of the search committee for the Police Chief/Director of Campus Security. Coleman-Boatwright, who facilitated the open forums, said in an e-mail interview that “the forums are designed . to allow campus constituents . to ask questions (and) get a feel for individual style and fit” of the candidates.

The forums were well-attended by both faculty and staff, but not by students.

When asked why the forums were held while students were on summer break, Coleman-Boatwright said, “(College president R. Barbara Gitenstein) was really committed to getting someone in here before the school year began. We are pushing that timeline now. While we made (the forums) available to (the campus) we did the best we could in terms of getting folks here.”

Campus-wide notifications of the forums were sent out via e-mail over the summer.

Christine Cullen, executive president of the Student Government Association (SGA), emphasized the involvement of students throughout the process, including both in the formation of the report itself and representation on the committee. Cullen was the only student representative on the search committee.

James Gant, former SGA vice president, and Steve Viola, former SGA junior class treasurer, represented the student body on the ad hoc committee.

“I am disappointed that there wasn’t more student interest,” Cullen said. “But it is understandable that students have a lot going on during the summer.”