Well-Known Safety Officer Fired

April 12, 2012 Campus, Local, News

Many people at Rollins know Campus Safety officer Paul Leahey and his upbeat attitude. “Paul is one of those officers who truly looks out for the safety and well-being of Rollins students. He wouldn’t drive an hour to work each day to return home to his wife and family after midnight each night if he didn’t love Rollins,” commented Blake Pierce ’14.

Most would be surprised , then, to hear that Leahey was recently let go from his position at Rollins.  “When I heard Paul was let go, I couldn’t believe it. Paul is an asset to our Rollins Community,” Pierce said. Leahey’s departure raises questions about recent turnover of personnel within Campus safety as well as broader concerns about the safety climate at Rollins.

Leahey’s official reason for termination was for “writing substandard reports.” Leahey contends, however, that the reporting system was confusing and lacked features like spelling and grammar checks. He sees his termination as marking a shift from the friendly tone he tried to strike on campus to a more militaristic attitude expressed by some of his former co-workers. He charges that before going out on evening rounds, officers would ask each other, “Are you ready to go duck hunting?”

“I can say in my 30 years of working that I have never been so harassed or bullied,” Leahey said. “A comment was made to me that I need to be more militant and less friendly on campus, but why? I can maintain security needs and be friendly at the same time.”

When asked for comment on the tone of his department, Director of Campus Safety Ken Miller responded, “I would think that at times we can be fairly militaristic — more than half of our staff is either prior military or former law enforcement officers. The tactics and plans we use during emergencies and events come directly from FEMA and originated in the military… To members of our community that don’t have much contact with our office or what we do, we might come across as very militaristic. To a parent that is concerned about the safety and security of their student, we might not be militaristic or police-like enough.”

Officers within the department may be reluctant to stand up against these issues due to the fear of being fired — especially in tough economic times. Dawson Wright, former R-Card coordinator, shares Leahey’s concerns over the shifting culture in Campus Safety. Wright believes that the workplace environment in the Campus Safety office is “creating a culture such that good people want to leave.”

He also noted that it is not the campus security department as a whole that is causing these problems. There are just a few “bad apples,” he said. Both Wright and Leahey believe that the turnover rate within the department, especially among the second shift — when many of the most serious incidents occur — is unacceptably high.

When asked about the alleged high turnover rate, Miller answered, “When compared to other security groups, peers in higher education, and the Orlando market, we have an extremely low turnover rate.”

“We are very proud of our staff with respect to their relatively long tenure (average officer has been with us around 3-5 years), their desire to continue their education (multiple officers are pursuing either undergraduate or graduate degrees) and their ability to serve a diverse population (approximately half are at least bilingual).”

Having an approachable campus safety department is important for the Rollins community.  Student Blake Pierce ’14 suggests implementing campus security/staff evaluations similar (but much simpler and quicker) to those students do for their professors. “We interact with staff just as much as we do with professors,” he says. Leahey stresses that he is not in a pursuit to get his job back or harm others’ reputations, but he would be happier parting with Rollins knowing that changes are being made so that the employees of the campus security department and the students especially are treated with more respect.

On Tuesday, April 17th, from noon till 1:30pm, Pierce will set up a booth at the Campus Center to circulate a petition arguing that Rollins needs “a serious review of the management of the campus security department such that we are retaining well-qualified and personable officers. Campus safety is often the first face of Rollins to visitors and current students need to see the department not as a threat, but as a resource. To that end, the climate of the department must shift away from its militant culture.”

 

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10 Comments

  1. Louisa Gibbs April 12, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    I graduated last year from Rollins. When I think back to my undergraduate experience, the first things that come to mind are my sorority, the Office of Community Engagement, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and Campus Safety. The campus safety officers made the campus a welcoming and extremely safe place. I developed good relationships with a number of the officers, and they were part of my undergraduate experience as much as my sisterhood or my professors. In fact, I would refrain from committing acts that would likely get me written up for the reason that I didn’t want to put the safety officers in that positions, since I got along so well with them!

    With the strong sense of community that our campus has, it’s a real shame to hear that officers like Paul are no longer there, and that the office gives off a “military” vibe. The reason I loved campus safety was because I knew that they genuinely cared for my well-being. I fully support more interaction with the student-body and the management of Campus Safety – Students see Campus Safety more than they do professors on a daily basis!

    Also, I miss Rollins and the Sandspur! 🙂

  2. Paul Leahey April 12, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    note : When Mr. Miller stated that the average security officer has been in the department for an average of 3-5 years , he is includeing in the average with day time management staff , Brian who works inside the museum, and dispatch /operators and part timers and himself .this is not your typical on campus do everthing officer. also that I know of there is out of about twenty five officers in the department I would say 5 of them at most! are attending classes ,so it is not as high as he might of made it sound. If you look and observe the second shift” on campus officer “has not been there more than 6 months full time, and the midnight shift on campus officer has not been there for more than 6 months full time as well .for the employees that have been there for 3-5 years that is not a very long career term, especialy in the orlando market I can say this for I have work in the orlando market for around thirty years. you all attend school longer than this. now do you understand the cover up. Take good care my friends at Rollins I truely enjoyed gaining memories with you all. Sincerly, Paul T. Leahey

    • Ramona Snowden April 13, 2012 at 1:15 am

      I just want to say that you will truly me missed my myself, and many many others! You always had something pleasant to say, or a least a smile and a wave. This is very much Rollin’s loss. Thanks for everything Paul!

  3. Pete White April 13, 2012 at 1:12 am

    It is unfortunate that Director of Campus Safety, Ken Miller’s comments appear to have admitted to Officer Leahey’s concerns that the Office views safety and friendliness as mutually exclusive. Instead of dismissing these concerns and directing his comments towards the reported reason for the termination, Mr. Miller seems to do nothing to dissuade these concerns or present an approachable atmosphere to students. I do not purport to have been free from interactions with the office in my time at Rollins, but while I was there this was not the type of interaction that I would expect from Mr. Miller or his office. While enrolled at Rollins, I always found Mr. Miller to be an excellent resource who did genuinely care for the student body. From my freshmen year there was a need for a crackdown, but by my senior year it was beginning to feel overbearing; and from what I have heard the direction has continued unchecked and unfortunately to this situation. The last thing alumnus want to hear about is that the students, campus safety department, and the school do not share the same goals of fostering a safe, full, and positive collegiate experience.

  4. Laura Hardwicke April 13, 2012 at 1:22 am

    There are bound to be organizational culture clashes in a department that must combine the mechanistic strategy of military and emergency preparedness with the organic, process and development oriented student affairs. I hope Campus Security can turn this into an opportunity for change instead of a threat that creates a schism between the office and the student population they serve.

    Its so sad to think that Paul won’t be around campus anymore. He was had such a positive impact on so many student’s experiences, mine included!

    -Laura Hardwicke ’11

  5. Julie Katz April 13, 2012 at 2:17 am

    Words cannot describe my deep disappointment in the Office of Campus Security for the recent changes in staff considering that many of their now previous employees had become, by the time I graduated, important figures of authority in my life. I feel the deepest sympathy for Paul and for Campus Security as a whole because it is sad for me to imagine, as a recent graduate, that a liberal arts school is relieving employees from duty for being too liberal. Rollins College is not a military institution. There is little militaristic character about it albiet the strict itinerary most students follow of grueling class work, unending extra-curricular activity and constant community engagement. Rollins produces it’s acclaimed ‘global citizens’ due to the happy, safe and productive environment it has to offer, especially on campus. Without an environment like that, students wouldn’t be able to do the work they do and be the students they are. Security officers like Paul, and all the other friendly staff make that environment possible. Rollins College and the immediate surrounding community is home to most of the students who reside there during their journey through higher education. Home is a place to feel loved, respected, protected and looked after with best interests in mind- not a place to be reprimanded, regulated, regimented, restricted and treated like a soldier of lower rank, or I suppose I should say treated like ducks ripe for hunting. Authoritarian militarism of any conceivable level has no place in a liberal arts community, particularly the Rollins liberal arts community, even within the security force.

    Paul, my friend, I am glad to have seen you one more time at the recent Alumni Weekend. Your positivity radiants a warmth that will be hard to match. Thank you for for not only keeping myself, my sisters and my fellow Rollins students safe all these years, but for your kindness, care and support.

  6. Nick Zazulia April 13, 2012 at 2:31 am

    I primarily just want to congratulate you, Lauren and Sandspur, on a good article, and think the comments it’s stirring up, both here and on Facebook, are proof that people care and are effectively being informed of an important personnel move (and perhaps even culture shift, per some) that they might not otherwise have realized was being made until a month or two down the road when someone wondered aloud why they hadn’t seen this particular campus security officer.

    As for the content, I’ll put forth that all of my worst experiences with campus security, as a student who lived on campus for 4 years and was never once written up, occurred when individuals being gung-ho and trigger happy in their duties, and all of my best occurred with (a saddeningly few) officers who smiled and seemed genuinely happy to be interacting with college students rather than treating them like the enemy. It’s disappointing that Rollins might be moving towards the culture that overwhelmingly makes students feel uncomfortable and resentful and away from one which helped them to feel respected, and like they had someone they could safely go to with a problem.

    Side-note: Checking a box is all I have to do to prove I’m human? Really?

    -You know who I am

  7. Kelly Mix April 13, 2012 at 3:36 am

    I can not agree more with the statement by Blake Pierce in this article that reads, “We interact with staff just as much as we do with professors.” The staff of Rollins Campus regardless of the position that they have is vital to the experiences and views that we hold. Many staff members at Rollins have thought me valuable lessons that can be measured to be far greater than the lessons that I have learned in the classroom. It is truly disheartening to read a story such as this where a faculty member was let go who played such an important role in the lives of the students and fellow staff members and who truly cared, which is more than I can say about a large number of staff that I have encountered while being a student at Rollins College. I hope that the petition in reviewing and revising the campus security management is taken seriously, I know my name will absolutely be on the list after reading this article.

  8. Gerry Wolfson-Grande April 13, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    I often depend on assistance from Campus Safety in order to get around campus, and Paul was frequently the officer sent to help me. He was always cheerful and friendly, and went out of his way to make me feel like this is the most important thing he had to do right then. I was always impressed by not only the number of students who waved and smiled, but how many of them he greeted by name as we went by. Paul presents the positive face of Campus Safety every day. He is an asset to both Campus Safety and the college, and should be valued as such.

    As far as the apparent official reason – substandard written reports – is concerned, while obviously it is important for reporting to be adequate, when I, as a presumably reasonable person, not to mention a student and a parent, look at and evaluate performance of the Campus Safety office on the whole, I would rank a few other criteria higher in importance. First, obviously, is responsiveness, including the ability to make appropriate judgments and take appropriate action based on those judgments, including documentation noting the situation and the actions taken. The information contained in the report is the most important part, people! While, obviously, good grammar and mechanics are desirable (and I’m an editor, so I can vouch for that personally), in this case they do come in second to the meat of the thing. As a reasonable person, and based on the information provided so far with regard to the purportedly “substandard” nature of Paul’s reporting, I can only conclude that this is a very questionable basis for his dismissal. It also makes me wonder whether it is a belated, knee-jerk attempt to remove scrutiny from past incidents where Campus Safety’s handling of same was called into question, and the reporting—which I believe was done by another individual—apparently was insufficient to avoid that scrutiny in the first place.

    Second, I must also take issue with Mr. Miller’s statement about Campus Safety being considered militaristic or “police-like,” perhaps not sufficiently so from a parent’s point of view, and the implication that this is acceptable to him. I’ve been a student, as an undergrad many years ago, and now as an adult graduate student, and a parent of a student. I’ve noted some of the issues that have arisen over recent years, and I also understand how efficiency can be affected simply due to a lack of sufficient staffing, much less any other difficulties which might arise. However, it is also my understanding that the inherent function of Campus Safety is not as some kind of para-militaristic operation, and that in fact it is required to call on local law enforcement, whether the Winter Park police department or the Orange County sheriff’s office, to handle, or at least supervise, any action which would come under those agencies’ purview anyway. It is a first responder, if you will, but it is obligated to contact and defer to the non-campus authorities. If Campus Safety wishes to reassure parents and students as to student safety, ensuring proper responsive procedures are implemented and followed in a timely fashion is far more effective than merely appearing to be capable of handling situations. Actions speak louder than looks, so to speak.

    And then there’s the question of accessibility. Students are going to be far more likely to talk to someone with whom they feel comfortable, someone who has a proven ability to interact with students in a friendly and receptive manner. This is not to say that someone, either former military or want-to-be military, with a penchant for duck hunting, is not capable of behaving in an approachable fashion, but that does not mean that the fellow who already has achieved a rapport with the students should be viewed askance because he believes that is a vital part of his job. Paul put it in a nutshell: “I can maintain security needs and be friendly at the same time.” And he’s extremely good at it, too, thank you.

  9. Kenny G April 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Great reporting Lauren! Paul, you will be missed.
    I have had 2 contrasting experiences with Campus Safety during my 5+ years at Rollins.

    1.) Receiving and appealing a parking ticket.
    As a graduate student and employee of the Bach Festival Society, I once parked in the Alfond Sports Center parking lot to unload equipment into the Music building as part of my position. When my task was done, I returned to my car and found I had received a ticket. My ticket appeal was with Ken Miller. During the appeal hearing, I was interrogated and intimidated by Mr. Miller, an experience which I still vividly remember. I explained that I was working for Rollins on official business at the time of the ticketing yet I was still treated like a common criminal. The method was effective (I never parked there again, even on official business) but it made me feel that my Campus Safety didn’t care about my well-being.

    2.) Saying hi to and occasionally getting a ride from Paul Leahey.
    He always was happy to see me. Mr. Leahey would wave and call my name and make me feel genuinely welcome and cared-for every time our paths crossed.

    Now, which of my encounters says to my parents that Campus Safety is “concerned about the safety and security of their student” – An officer who knows who I am and cares about me or an officer who employs police/military interrogation tactics on a student and employee for a minor, first-time parking violation?

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