While 21 may be a lucky number for some undergrads at the College, it’s a number the office of Campus Police has struggled with for years.
According the office of Communications and Media Relations, the College employed between 16 and 18 officers each of the past three years, falling well short of the College-mandated marker of 21.
As of press time, the College has 15 certified police officers on staff, leaving six vacancies.
The College and several other New Jersey state colleges and universities are required to draft officers through a statewide civil service hiring process managed by the New Jersey Department of Personnel (DOP). Administrators at the College, Rowan University and Ramapo College have all criticized the process, describing it as laborious and restrictive.
Due in part to this process, administrators say, Campus Police has been short-staffed since at least 2005.
Rowan experienced difficulty with the civil service hiring process toward the end of last semester. In response to the violent mugging and murder of 19-year-old Donald Farrell in October 2007, the school attempted to add seven new officers to its campus police staff. According to Tim Michener, director of Public Safety at Rowan, it will take a year for those candidates to become certified officers.
While Ramapo does not employ a police force on campus, its staff of security officers is also below its desired number of personnel, according to assistant director of security Tim Osborne.
“We follow the Department of Personnel Civil Service hiring process that can take months to fill a position. It is rare that we are fully staffed,” Osborne said.
The hiring process
According to Maryanne Jemison, a spokesperson for the DOP, candidates who qualify for and pass the state Entry-Level Law Enforcement Exam will become eligible for several entry-level law enforcement titles, including municipal police officer, park police officer and campus police officer.
Agencies seeking to fill vacant police positions must request the list of eligible candidates from the DOP. That list may at times include up to 10,000 names, Jemison said.
The problem, according to Matthew Golden, executive director of Public Affairs and Communications, is that, despite the lengthy list, very few applicants make it to the interview round of the process.
“We get a list of people who have passed the statewide exam and have an interest in working here. From that pool we have to conduct interviews and background checks. Essentially it gets whittled down to a very small number,” Golden said. “We select several who we try to send to the (police) academy. Unfortunately, while they are in some juncture of the process they get offers from other employers.”
John Collins, director of Campus Police, added that the competitive nature of the hiring process diminished the pool of applicants.
“We’re all fishing from the same pond,” Collins said. “It’s a cumbersome process. When we call someone in for an interview, they may have gotten that call from two or three different schools already.”
The College found itself especially hamstrung in November 2007. While working with a list of 300 applicants, the College invited 25 potential new officers for interviews after completing background checks. Only 12 candidates appeared for the interview and only two were then placed into the academy.
“The list that they provide us is limiting our opportunity to hire people. When some(one) on the list opts to go elsewhere and others don’t pass a background check, or some don’t complete the police academy, that’s where we are left unable to fill those positions,” Golden said.
According to Collins, the cadets entering the academy are expected to become full-fledged Campus Police officers at the College by November 2008.
While applicants must qualify for the Entry Level Law Enforcement Exam, the DOP does not conduct background checks, leaving that task to the colleges.
Administrative Sgt. Marcie Montalvo, who conducts background checks on all of the College’s potential police hires, said 25 percent of the most recent group of applicants were disqualified for employment. According to Montalvo, the disqualified applicants were removed for omitting prior arrests or Motor Vehicle Commission infractions.
“Because of the nature of the job, we want the most qualified people for the position,” Montalvo said. “If people are going to go out and do the job, they can’t lie to us off the bat.”
These factors contribute to one of the largest obstacles separating the College from a speedy hiring process. The DOP does not allow a hiring agency to request a new list of candidates until it has exhausted all the potential hires from the initial list.
Since the College received a list in November 2007, it will be unable to restart the hiring process until the two applicants currently in the police academy either accept or decline a position in Campus Police.
Sometimes, getting the list itself can be a harrowing process. According to Montalvo, the College did not receive a list of candidates until six months after requesting it.
“The DOP is not the most expeditious agency,” Montalvo said.
College President R. Barbara Gitenstein also criticized the speed of the system.
“This procedure seems to limit our ability to hire officers in a timely manner,” Gitenstein said. “Whatever process is in place should allow the College and every other state college and university to hire qualified and mission-supportive police officers in an expeditious fashion.”
Despite the criticisms laid out by Golden, Gitenstein and officials at other state colleges, Jemison maintained that the problem lies with the colleges’ administrations.
“The Department of Personnel is only an oversight agency. We in no way make up organizations,” Jemison said in response to Gitenstein and Golden’s remarks. “Pretend the College is a city. I can’t tell you how many people to hire. I can’t tell you what you need. I’m in charge of providing you a list of eligible candidates.”
Jemison suggested Campus Police talk to the Human Resources Department.
However, Golden said the hiring process has paralyzed the College’s Human Resources Department.
“If we tried to hire more from the list that we were given, we might be hiring unqualified officers,” Golden said. “We offered everyone who made it through the checks (the option) to go to the police academy and that was two people. If six or seven made it through the background check, we would have sent six or seven to the police academy.”
Effects of the Process on Campus Security
The six vacancies have placed stress on the office of Campus Police to cover the remaining shifts. Over the past three years, overtime hours for the remaining 15 officers have steadily increased.
In 2005, the College paid its officers a total of about $238,900 in overtime pay. That number rose to approximately $264,000 in 2006, and again to approximately $289,000 in 2007, an estimated $50,000 jump in the span of two years.
Golden said the limitations of the hiring process were a “large reason” for the increase in overtime.
Curt Heuring, vice president of Facilities Management, Construction and Campus Safety, said the overtime increase is just part of the College’s plan to address the vacancies.
“Although, as of now, we are down several officers, we have many options to supplement our staffing, including officer overtime and assistance from other commissioned police departments,” Heuring said. “Rest assured that our highest priority is the safety and security of the College community.”
Collins said officers are expected to work 40-hour workweeks and that overtime is offered on a voluntary basis.
“My philosophy is to avoid forcing officers to stay if I don’t have to,” Collins said.
Despite the added hours, Collins said he doesn’t believe the extra shifts will impair officers’ ability to secure the campus.
“We would never compromise an officer’s safety,” Collins said. “If an officer was fatigued to the point where it was visible, we would send them home.”
While some of the officers have embraced the opportunity for extra shifts, Montalvo thinks exhaustion may eventually take its toll.
“Some officers like the constant overtime because they like the money, but there comes a point where officers get burned out,” Montalvo said. “You can’t be expected to work (double shifts) every day. Thankfully it’s never led to anything detrimental or fatal, but it could.”
Golden added that while the office is understaffed as a whole, the College still retains an adequate number of officers on campus at any given time.
“I don’t want people to think because we’re supposed to have 21, (and) we only have 15, that the work isn’t getting done,” Golden said. “I don’t want people to think those shifts are not being covered.”
According to Golden, the overtime supplementation has also allowed Campus Police to maintain its complimentary agreement with the Ewing Police Department as specified by the Critical Incident Plan. According to the plan, Campus Police is supposed to assist Ewing Police if necessary in a dire situation and vice-versa.
Despite the problems presented by the civil service hiring process, several state colleges and universities endorse other security measures on their campuses. By hiring unarmed security personnel and implementing student-run security programs, Rowan University, Ramapo College and Rutgers University have supplemented their campus police departments despite high turnover rates.
Rowan currently employs 17 uniformed police officers, but that small staff is assisted by a crew of 19 unarmed security personnel, eight security guards and five safety officers.
According to Tim Michener, Rowan’s director of Public Safety, the school also maintains approximately 100 student safety officers who conduct “safety patrols” across the campus.
According to Golden, the College does employ an undisclosed number of unarmed security personnel whose duties include “communication activities and providing supplementary foot patrols near the campus residential areas.”
A specific number of security employees was unavailable as of press time, but Golden said the College is not fully staffed in this capacity either. According to the office of Communications and Media Relations, nine employees would constitute a full complement of “security personnel.”
The College is awaiting the results of an ongoing security audit before considering adding additional security personnel or student safety officers.
“We are approaching the security audit with an open mind,” Golden said. “It is being conducted to find out what we could be doing or should be doing to make security on campus effective as it could possibly be.”
– Additional reporting by Megan DeMarco, News Editor