Bethune-Cookman Beefs Up Safety With Own Force
(By Deborah Circelli, Staff Writer)
DAYTONA BEACH -- Bethune-Cookman University students returned to fall classes this week with more eyes and cameras watching over them since changes were made after a confrontation involving dozens of students in one of the dorms last fall.
Instead of contracting with a private security company as in the past, the university has a new security force that started this summer and works directly for the university, similar to Daytona State College, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Stetson University.
Walking through the quad on campus, Chief Mel Williams and Capt. Randy Davis talked to students this week about the changes. The two, who worked together early in their careers, head up the new force on campus, overseeing more than 3,000 students, similar to working a small city, Williams said.
Williams, 53, who retired in 2009 from the Titusville Police Department and has 30 years of law enforcement experience, was hired in October as director of campus safety and security. He finished phasing out security officers from a private vendor in the summer, keeping five on board.
Overall, 25 public service officers have been hired and 10 more start a training class in September. Three additional people were brought on as sergeants. The three, along with Williams and Davis, who retired from the Brevard County Sheriff's Office, have a combined 108 years of law enforcement experience, Williams said.
A dispatch center in the Office of Safety and Security was formed in July with five dispatchers, who work shifts viewing large surveillance monitors of students throughout the campus and directing public service officers to problem areas. More cameras are being added and a crime prevention outreach specialist was hired to work with students.
"Our campus is safe," Williams said. "We've improved our security plan and we have a group of highly trained, dedicated officers."
Costs of the improvements were not disclosed.
INCIDENT PROMPTS CHANGES
The changes and move away from private contractors came following a dispute that erupted inside a dorm last September involving students and residence hall workers after a sprinkler system went off. The incident, which included the dorm staff being fired, led to strained relations between the university and the city's Police Department.
Bethune-Cookman President Trudie Kibbe Reed said she wanted skilled security dedicated to the university's mission and students. Since taking over the presidency in 2004, she said the university had used three different vendors.
"I wanted to have a real safe campus," Reed said. "I wanted to have people who cared -- they weren't just here for a paycheck."
The officers, who carry handcuffs and pepper spray, have received a minimum of 96 hours of training in subjects such as conflict resolution and domestic violence with help from the Daytona Beach Police Department.
Working for the university, Williams said, gives the officers more "ownership" as opposed to wearing a uniform with another company's name on it. The new uniforms have the Bethune-Cookman seal on the sleeve surrounded by the words "integrity, respect and pride."
Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood said he gives Reed a lot of credit for investing in making improvements. He said students and faculty are going to "see a completely different security force -- very professional," pointing to both Williams and Davis.
"I will be really surprised if the past repeats itself. I think there is a new air around the university," Chitwood said.
He describes Williams as a "first-rate individual" and "straightforward" with a "no-nonsense approach." Williams served on review panels for the Daytona Beach Police Department with other police agencies when selecting candidates for promotions
Najahri Atkins, 22, a senior from Crescent City, said Williams "runs a tight ship."
"My freshman year there was a lot of crazy stuff going on," Atkins said. "Security is like 180 degrees from what it was last year. If a fight breaks out, there's no doubt someone will be there to protect us."
Freshmen Tranince Graham, 18, of Deerfield Beach, said the improved new security has helped her when walking across campus at night.
"We need them," Graham said. "There is a lot of people out here."
Williams told incoming freshmen and parents at an orientation about the zero tolerance policy of no weapons, no drugs or drug paraphernalia and no violence. He said if someone violates it, "they will leave the campus" and if they can't afford to go home, the university will buy them a bus ticket.
Ultimately, Williams hopes the university can have its own police force with some sworn officers and the majority would remain public service officers. He looked at other campuses such as the University of Miami. Williams has been working with Chitwood and city staff.
Chitwood said having sworn officers would be up to the City Commission and he's not prepared to discuss it, adding some legal issues need to be resolved. Currently, the public service officers aren't sworn and can't make arrests. Williams said it's important to have some sworn officers instead of waiting for local police to arrive.
Daytona Beach Mayor Glenn Ritchey said such a decision has to be "thought through very thoroughly." He said there were also discussions of the university having sworn officers who work for the police department, but Williams said the university prefers to have its own police force.
"I know everybody is working diligently to come up with what would be the best model for us in Daytona Beach," Ritchey said.
About 45 percent of campuses nationwide have sworn officers, according to James Brown, associate director of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc.
Stetson University has its own security, but Robert Matusick, Stetson's chief of public safety, and his captain are retired from the Volusia County Sheriff's Office and remain reserve deputies and law enforcement officers. They have arrest powers on campus in the event of an emergency. But Matusick said he still prefers to have local law enforcement in DeLand handle arrest-type issues.
Reprinted with permission of the Daytona Beach News-Journal © 2010
About Bethune Cookman University:
Founded in 1904 by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) today sustains her legacy of faith, scholarship and service through its relationship with the United Methodist Church and its commitment to academic excellence and civic engagement. B-CU offers 38 degrees on its main campus and online college. Located in Daytona Beach, B-CU is one of three private, historically black colleges in the state of Florida. The institution boasts a diverse and international faculty and student body of nearly 4,000. For more information, visit www.cookman.edu.