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Security Changes Spark Debate

Claire Heininger | Thursday, September 16, 2004

Questions prevailed in April when Notre Dame Security/Police decided to eliminate security monitors – who had been a visible presence in women’s residence halls since the University went co-ed in 1972 – from their ranks. Female rectors questioned the safety of their residents, asking who would enforce parietals, support hall staffs and calm their fears so they could sleep at night. Male rectors questioned the value of the monitors’ replacement, an outdoor-based community security officer system slated to patrol dorms for both sexes. From their perspective, the move meant more security, not less.Monitors themselves questioned everything – the severance packages NDSP provided, their own slim career alternatives and the chances of the current campus dynamic surviving without them.Now, with four weeks of the new system under its belt, the Notre Dame community has seen glimpses of the answers – and delivered its own responses, from the beneficial to the bleak.The OfficersWith the recognizable – and often beloved – monitors as their predecessors, the new officers had to be people before police, said Rex Rakow, director of NDSP.Therefore, in addition to this summer’s fire safety, medical and departmental training, officers attended training sessions with residence hall staff to personalize their preparation.”They gained a lot of good insight during that process,” Rakow said.The team, composed of four female officers and two males, also brings a variety of backgrounds, including a security officer from Bethel College, a retired human resources officer from the Air Force, two former full-time security monitors, one former part-time monitor and a seven-year NDSP veteran as shift supervisor.Four officers are on duty during any given night, patrolling six to seven dorms apiece. So far, the officers have worked mainly outside, Rakow said, except for a few medical emergencies involving intoxicated students on a dorm’s upper floors. “With four more eyes and ears out there on central campus, I believe it’s going to pay off,” he said.Kinks remain to be worked out. Some rectors have raised concerns about a male officer answering a call in a women’s dorm or a female officer answering a call in a men’s dorm, Rakow said, adding that NDSP is working to remedy those instances.”It’s a learning process on all sides,” he said. The RectorsAmong one of the most vocal sides – the rectors – the verdict is still out.Badin rector Ann Napoli said residents in her dorm definitely miss their monitor, but had nothing but praise for the personalized aspects of the new security force. “They’re very friendly and well-trained,” she said, adding that the same two officers had consistently patrolled Badin and had already become familiar with hall staff. For McGlinn rector Beth Skinner, however, familiarity isn’t enough.While she called the roving officers “qualified, responsive, caring and good at their job,” she believes their job description remains incomplete.”If this is the answer, I think it’s a good answer,” she said. “But I still continue to miss the presence there at night.”Skinner said she and her assistant rectors have already been woken up several times in the middle of the night to help students who are locked out of the dorm – a problem more easily solved when an awake, alert monitor was stationed at the door. The impossibility of fully enforcing parietals also adds to the stress factor, Skinner said.”I have to give myself permission to sleep,” she said. “I can’t override a decision that’s been made by the University, [but] its unrealistic to make sure parietals are handled to a T.”In Cavenaugh, staff has purposely lingered at dorm entrances around the time of parietals – but cannot replace a nightlong presence, rector Sister Patricia Dearbaugh said.”My hall staff is not happy about [the changes],” she said. “They feel that the dorm isn’t as safe for them.”Like Skinner, Dearbaugh stressed that she was not being critical of the new officers.”It’s good that they’re outside – they’re here, they check in every night,” Dearbaugh said. “But whatever the monitors did, it was a matter of presence that made the difference.”Despite the dorm’s more vulnerable location, missing that presence has not been a problem at Pasquerilla East, rector Sister Mary Anne Mueninghoff said.”So far, so good,” she said. “We’re a hall that’s on the street, [but] I’m cautiously optimistic.”Male rectors were grateful for the officers‚ inconspicuous flexibility.”It’s been more of a help than an intrusion,” said Fisher rector Father Rob Moss, who said officers have only needed to patrol the front lobby and 24-hour space of the hall.Dillon rector Father Paul Doyle also opted to keep the officers off the floors.”That could be a privacy issue,” he said. “The rectors are trying to create a community that’s not a police state.”Doyle played a firsthand role in preparing the roving officers for the nuances of campus. Along with Sister Susan Dunn, rector of Lyons, Doyle met with NDSP over the summer to brief the officers on Notre Dame’s unique residence hall dynamic.”Each rector has been asked what he or she wants, and [the officers] have done that,” he said. “Uniformity is not a goal I aspire to around here – unity is.”The RAsWhen the monitors were fired in the spring, resident assistants in women’s halls feared the worst.But the problems of staying up all night to pick up the slack never materialized, said Kati Duffey, a senior RA in Breen-Phillips. “I anticipated a worse adjustment,” she said, adding that besides football weekends, she only had to make one extra round per night of duty. “I don’t feel like I’m being called upon to do anything too demanding.”In many women’s dorms, including Breen-Phillips, resident assistants have assumed the monitor’s duties of flickering the lights 10 minutes before parietals and sitting at the main desk to watch visitors file out. Other dorms have asked RAs to include an outside loop in their normal rounds.Farley RA Elizabeth Duran said the problem isn’t taking on those extra responsibilities.”It’s not more work for us, it’s more fear for us,” she said. “You hope that nothing bad happens when you go to bed at night.”The dorm’s longtime monitor Roberta Shupert still has a place at Farley’s door, Duran said.”We still call it Bert’s desk,” she said, adding that the new officers were, in comparison, “not very personal so far.””The potential is there,” she said. “It’s probably just a matter of time.”