COVID-19 adds new duties to Public Safety officers

We often think of Public Safety officers as those issuing parking tickets, confiscating alcohol, and hustling to emergencies on campus. But in the last year, Castleton University’s officers have taken on a brand new role: managing campus access for students and ensuring COVID-19 protocols are followed.

They have been working closely with the university’s Conferences and Events team since last March when COVID-19 became a shocking reality for Americans.

New duties include the management of building access, which entails locking and unlocking doors for approved entry to students needing access to technology and custodial staff disinfecting spaces so that everyone may continue to safely use them. Public Safety Director Keith Molinari said the new role required some time for acclamation.

“It took some time. It was a process, logistically. And then it was a learning curve for a week or two also,” he said. “It was a little bit of a project, but not too major,” he said. Molinari also reflected on last March, saying that the department worked mostly on putting signs up and shutting campus down in the early days of the nation’s battle with COVID-19.

The new role of the office has been noted by department officers, like student officer Nate Warrington, who works for Public Safety through work study.

“It’s definitely different than last year,” Warrington said. “This semester we have a schedule every day of all the classrooms that have to be unlocked and locked. We unlock them half an hour before class so now we are constantly out and about going to different buildings.”

As a student also, Warrington said he understands the importance of properly scheduling access times and has seen firsthand what can happen when the right steps are not taken to reserve space.

“We have had to reject people’s requests for unlocks since they have not gone through the proper channels to reserve the room through Conferences and Events,” he said.

Lori Phillips, from the Conferences and Events team described the proper reservation process.

“We have relied heavily on our scheduling software system, which is called EMS. Once someone makes a reservation or request, we put that information in the scheduling system. In that reservation are all the little details. There’ll be a detail to Public Safety to unlock the door, and when the event is finished to lock up,” she said.

Reservations can be made by emailing Castleton Conferences and Events.

The relationship between the Office of Public Safety and the Conferences and Events team has existed before COVID, too. Phillips explained how some of the normal practices for these two groups have come in handy in dealing with the COVID-19 situation as well.

“In the summertime we work very closely with Public Safety in terms of traffic control,” she said. “All of our student guests also get an ID badge and they’re grouped by a number and so we will have to work with [Public Safety] … so they’ll program a student’s card so they don’t have 24-hour access to a building and they’ll program it so that the group can only get into Hoff Hall and their card won’t work to get into any other buildings,” she said.

“We have a big crossover here. It’s not just about public safety and law enforcement. It’s really about customer service…There’s a whole host of issues that we take on here that are not law enforcement.”

Molinari said his officers have done well in adapting to their new role. “The guys are so used to it now that it’s a normal routine.”

Phillips echoed Molinari’s assessment of the Public Safety team.

“They’re hard-working…All the guys are great,” she said.

But it’s not just the Office of Public Safety that has helped Castleton through this pandemic so far, though. Molinari was quick to disperse credit to the entire campus.

“I love the way our students respond…A lot is to be said for our culture here at Castleton,” he said.

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