Understaffed Campus Safety operates on overtime while recruiting new hires

Campus Safety lost four officers over the past summer, forcing the 13 remaining employees to shoulder more responsibilities, train new hires on-site and work overtime. Human Resources is searching for qualified officers to fill the three remaining open positions by the end of the academic year, according to Interim Chief of Campus Safety Joseph Novak.

According to Novak, the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) hired former Occidental Chief of Campus Safety Victor Clay as its new chief of campus security and parking services in July, forcing Occidental to begin a search for a new chief. Clay and Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Amos Himmelstein selected Novak to work as interim chief of Campus Safety. Novak, who has worked in Campus Safety for 12 years, said he is a candidate for the permanent position. According to Novak, a multi-constituency search committee chaired by Himmelstein and Rob Flot, dean of students and vice president of student affairs, will decide who will become the new chief by the end of the year.

Campus Safety then hired two new staff members — Officers Salvador Gonzalez and Greg Costido — and is planning on hiring three more before next summer, according to Novak. These new hires are meant to fill the remaining open positions: one officer, one corporal and one sergeant. Novak said that he is focused on hiring entry-level officers, as he can promote current staff to the higher ranking positions.

Jack Schofield

“We are short-handed right now,” Novak said. “We are trying to get our openings filled up — it’s not easy, it’s hard to find good people.”

Cpl. Barry Hardin — who has worked in Campus Safety for 13 years — said that he enjoys the work environment on campus, but it is hard to find qualified prospective hires who want to work for Campus Safety in the long term.

“People that worked here have used Campus Safety as a stepping stone to go into law enforcement. We are used to that, but it kind of hit us all at once,” Hardin said.

According to Clay, Campus Safety officers are desirable candidates for law enforcement recruiters because they are trained to handle a variety of concerns, from residential issues to Campus Safety’s computer reporting system.

“Let’s say you had seven criteria that made them perfect for the [Campus Safety officer] job — most people would have five to six of those criteria so you’d have to support them and train them,” Clay said. “Once that’s done, though, they are a high ranking candidate for a police department, so that’s kind of a double-edged sword.”

Hardin said that a recent concern for the department has been the increased number of hours that officers need to cover. According to Sgt. Claudia Conde, Campus Safety officers patrol 24 hours a day, every day of the week, including the graveyard shifts from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Individual officers work approximately 10 hours day, four days a week. The graveyard shift rotates between staff every six weeks.

“The four supervisors are rotating the graveyard shift. I think that’s the main concern for us, making sure that grave is filled and there’s enough tenured staff,” Conde said. “We came up with a plan and it’s working out so far. We are a little tired, but it’s working.”

Conde said that Campus Safety has rarely been fully-staffed since she began working there in 2003. In addition to covering their regular hours, staff now works overtime along with the graveyard shifts, according to Conde.

“I’m used to it,” Conde said. “Us older folks know what it takes to cover the shifts, you just suck it up and hope that it changes.”

According to Conde, Campus Safety’s veteran supervising officers are working to train the new hires while covering their own daily duties. Experienced officers share shifts with the new hires and supervise their on-site training. Conde said that shifts normally occupied by one officer now require additional staff.

Hardin said that another part of training involves coaching officers in community policing. According to Novak, the Campus Safety staff mindset differs from that of a regular police officer.

“We’re not sworn cops, we aren’t carrying firearms and we are not out to arrest students, that is not what we are about. We are about safety and service for the community, that’s the main priority. That can take a while to convey to the newbies, to get into the school mentality,” Novak said.

Conde said that she tries to lead the new staff by example. She said that the job of Campus Safety is to serve the college and she reminds new officers not to always expect gratitude for their work.

“This [job] is more service-oriented,” Conde said. “I have this [motto] that says: ‘If serving is below you, leadership is beyond you.’ So that’s how I try to live and I try to show them all.”

Conde said that in addition to coaching the new hires, Campus Safety’s current priorities are continuing to meet the college community’s expectations and staying on top of the daily work. According to Conde, this means catching up with email correspondences, attending meetings with other departments and updating training for all of Campus Safety’s staff.