Over the past few weeks, there has been much buzz and confusion throughout campus about the newly hired Public Safety Director, Sean Tallarico, and his plans for Public Safety (PS) as he assumes his new role.
Tallarico spoke at the March 26 Student Government Association (SGA) meeting, in which questions were raised by student leaders regarding the future of PS’s presence and role on campus. The major concerns included whether officers would be carrying guns, how the student conduct system would be changed, and Tallarico’s overall approach to St. Mary’s, him being new to the College and the area.
These queries came to light after an article was published by TheBaynet.com covering the St. Mary’s County Sheriff Office meeting held on the St. Mary’s campus on March 21. Tallarico was in attendance, and was interviewed by TheBaynet.com about his plans as the new PS Director. In the article, Tallarico mentioned that he wanted “to move his force towards having full police powers,” after noting that he himself had full police powers and carried a gun at his previous job at Moravian College in Pennsylvania.
This brought concerns to the campus community due to the College’s reputation of a generally safe place.
When asked about the article in the SGA meeting, Tallarico claimed that his comments were taken out of context. Dean of Students Bert Ifill also noted that Tallarico was “entirely misquoted,” according to President Joe Urgo.
During the 40-minute question and answer period in the SGA meeting, the direct question of whether or not PS officers would be carrying guns in the near future was asked several times, however, no direct yes or no answer was offered from Tallarico.
Ifill responded to the article’s claims by stating that Tallarico was being asked about a specific hypothetical situation — if there were to be a shooter loose on campus — and not his thoughts on PS officers carrying guns. The article posed Tallarico saying that in the event of a shooter on campus, he would “tell his men [and women] to get as far away from that as possible, because it would be a situation of an armed person against an unarmed police force.” The article then claimed, “Tallarico did say, however, that he is licensed to carry a gun and as a sworn officer, it would be hard for him to walk away from the situation.” “The situation” the article is referring to, according to Ifill, is him intervening if a shooter was on campus and he was unarmed due to his responsibility of keeping the campus safe, not carrying a gun.
Dick Myers, TheBaynet.com reporter and author of the article, however, simply stated, “I stand by the article,” when asked about the misquoting claims of Ifill and Tallarico.
Ifill put skepticisms to rest, however, by mentioning that he and Tallarico have had specific conversations about the topic of PS officers carrying guns. “From our own [the College community’s] set of values, it’s not workable,” he claimed. Urgo also confirmed that “there are absolutely no plans to do that.”
Other concerns raised by student leaders include Tallarico’s inclusion of the students in making such decisions about PS’s roles on campus, and Tallarico’s knowledge of the St. Mary’s Way and campus culture. Tallarico said that getting to know the campus and students is very important to him. Ifill noted that his interest in the community is one of the reasons he was being considered for the job.
Still, after the March 26 SGA meeting in which Tallarico spoke, concerns among students in regards to PS’s future role on campus remained.
So on April 2, Ifill came to speak at the SGA meeting to clear up any lingering questions about Tallarico’s plans, and attempted to put rumors to rest.
In the meeting, Ifill opened by stating three main principles that both the administration and Tallarico would like PS to soon embody. Those three principles are: 1) giving PS more positive visibility on campus, 2) keeping the student conduct system as educational and not a crime and punishment system, and 3) to give PS officers more training so they can do their jobs at the highest caliber possible.
Though Ifill outlined these main three goals, he said, “The major principle, though, is that they are here to keep us and our campus safe. It’s not about dividing the community into perps and victims. I want the officers to be part of the community, too.”
When commenting on the second principle, which addresses PS’s role in the student conduct system, Ifill stressed that the St. Mary’s system is very unique among college campuses, and becoming ever rarer as time progresses. “The point of our system is to impose community standards on our community. It’s an accountability system imposed by students.” Ifill also mentioned the importance of the educational aspect of the system.
While concerns were raised in the SGA meeting Tallarico attended over how severely PS’s role in the conduct system will be changed, Tallarico mentioned that any changes made will be aimed at improving PS officers’ performances when handling cases. A sting of discontent was felt throughout the room, though, when Tallarico stated that he would like outcomes of student conduct hearings to be reported to PS. Right now, PS does not receive those outcomes, so officers involved in hearings do not know how a given case is resolved. Reasonings for that stem from the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which states that the students’ conduct records are protected from parents or other certain outside parties unless permitted by the student. If PS obtains outcomes of hearings, the student is then not protected under the act.
Both Ifill and Urgo noted that the administration and Tallarico are planning to review the judicial process as a whole along with Student Conduct Officer Kelly Smolinsky. According to Ifill, Smolinsky is currently researching a “restorative justice” system, which would give justice to both the affected victims and offenders in a given case without breaching confidentiality.
As far as giving PS officers “full police powers,” a term in which had not been clearly defined, Ifill mentioned that simply “any police powers has to be negotiated with the campus community. There are a number of abilities that PS officers have already that we use with discretion,” he said. Those powers include the ability to issue search warrants, stop cars on campus, etc.
Ifill’s main concerns with the extended training, however, are specifically geared to handling bigger incidents on campus, such as sexual assault. “The skills I’d like PS officers to have is to be better acquainted with the laws of the state, better able to diffuse situations, and having good judgment to be able to recognize where there may be risk,” he said. “I want PS to be an ally in the Green Dot Program, also in helping teach the community how to interject in hazardous situations correctly.” Ifill also said that part of the training will include knowing who to go to for bigger cases within the St. Mary’s Sheriff Department and other law enforcement agencies as necessary.
While the extra training will certainly cost the College money, Ifill was not sure of the exact expense. According to him, Tallarico would need to present a proposal for the training to Ifill and then the budget would be sorted out from there. Ifill also noted that the training would not be for all of the officers.
From here on out, Ifill said that plans include getting Tallarico more involved and visible in the campus community. One of the first steps Tallarico intends to take is reinstating the Public Safety Advisory Committee, which was started under former Director Dave Zylak.
Tallarico expressed his intent to bring back the advisory committee, which is currently being rebuilt with Student Trustee senior Alex Walls, junior William Sokolove, and junior Jenny Housley. Meetings have been taking place last week and this week to determine the role the committee will play and its members, according to Tallarico.
“It is my belief that where PS is concerned, any dialog that fosters a better understanding of safety and security on campus promotes safer students in a safer environment. I believe students want a place they can share their concerns and a good PS Department needs to establish the ability to have ongoing communication so that the campus community understands what the role of PS is and why it does what it does.
“PS should not only be seen as the department that shows up when something bad happens or is only around to be the enforcers of rules and regulations,” Tallarico said. “Its primary role is within and must be part of, the education framework.”