Q & A With University Police Chief Michael Lynch
Posted: November 20, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
Editor’s note: This weekly question-and-answer column with George Mason administrators appears every Thursday in the Daily Gazette. To view previous articles, visit the Q&A archive page.
By Erick Soricelli
Please give a brief overview of what the University Police Department is responsible for at Mason.
The University Police Department is responsible for everything related to the overall safety and security of the campus community. We are also responsible for providing a safe and secure environment for all university employees, students, and guests. We work collaboratively with academic and administrative units, individuals, and organizations to further the mission of the university. We are different from a lot of police departments in that we do not report to the town council or the mayor, or the county council or some elected government; we support the mission of the university as an academic institution. We police this community in a different way, and our job is to help people, like all the rest of the departments in the university, come to this place, succeed, and go out and rule the world.
How far out does your jurisdiction extend?
The legal definition of our jurisdiction is all property that is owned, leased, or controlled by George Mason University, so we have jurisdiction on the property of all of our three campuses, including the streets and sidewalks adjacent to those properties. For example, on our Arlington Campus, we have jurisdiction on that adjacent stretch of North Fairfax Drive and that stretch of Kirkwood Drive, just like have we have jurisdiction on Braddock Road and Route 123. However, we do not go out into the surrounding neighborhoods of the campuses.
How closely do you work with local police departments?
We work very closely with neighboring departments. In fact it is not just limited to surrounding counties. We are a participant in a mutual aid compact with 17 participating police departments all around Northern Virginia. We have the collective resources of all of Northern Virginia law enforcement at our fingertips through this mutual aid agreement. If I need, for example, a Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) wagon because of something that happens around here, I can call the Fairfax County Police Department and their SWAT team will respond, or the Prince William County Police Department can respond. If I need a bomb detection dog, I can go to one place, if I need a riot control squad, I can go to another place. In addition to that, we have regular meetings and telephone and conference calls with area jurisdictions, and we work very closely with them on things that affect all of us.
What is the status of the call box system on campus?
We are in the middle of a long-term project to evaluate and revamp our emergency call box system. It is my mandate that every call box we have out there works, so if there is a call box that does not work, we need to know about it. What we have decided to do is to evaluate whether some of the call boxes that we have out there are actually unnecessary. So it is not an automatic that if we find a call box that does not work in the middle of some parking lot somewhere, we would spend the money and buy a new one and replace it with a new working call box. We may choose to remove that one from the call box system and put a working one where it is needed more. The whole call box system on campus was something that was a great idea in the 1980s, it served us well in the 1990s, but these days, we get so few calls on our emergency call box system that we think we can spend our money on different technologies that will serve the community better.
How effective do you think the current police-sponsored programs are, such as Crime Solvers or Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.)?
R.A.D. is one of the programs that is really well-received throughout the community. It is a free self-defense program for university-affiliated women. We conduct this training, and it costs us some money to do this, but it is something that we absorb. For that reason, even though we have gotten hit with some pretty serious budget constraints in the past couple of years, R.A.D. is one of the services that I cannot cut or choose not to cut from the services we provide, since it is so well-received. Crime Solvers has been a good thing for us. If we did not have a formally recognized Crime Solvers program up and running, we would still solicit information from the public about certain crimes, crime trends, or safety concerns. Crime Solvers is a way to make the process more universal; people can call a Crime Solvers line and give their information anonymously. But that is not the only way to give information to the police department.
What are some other ways the public can alert the police?
There are a number of ways to stay in touch with the police department. We are pretty proud that we finally launched, later than I had hoped, our Police Cadet program. Essentially, the program involves student employees working with the police department, helping us out with our mission. We have them doing security patrols, we have them doing escorts, driving the shuttle vans at night, special details, and some parking control. In short, we have student employees working with the police department doing quasi-police work for the department; it is a big help to us, but not a lot of people know about it. The Police Cadet program will give us a better ability to interact person-to-person with the people on this campus because it augments our police force by more than a dozen, and soon it will be 20 or so police cadets helping us to keep this place safe.
What do you feel is the largest crime problem the department has encountered this year?
“Crimes of opportunity” is the largest problem year after year after year. I can say we probably do not have predators lurking in the bushes waiting to grab our people and haul them away; we do not have trouble with gangs or bank robberies. What we do have are those people who will take advantage of unsecured property and steal it. If we can make people aware that even though this is a safe place, you cannot just leave your laptop on the library table, go to class, then come back and expect to have it still there. Sometimes we need to help people to understand that they need to secure their property better.
Have you noticed any trends (increases, decreases in certain categories) over the past few years in the crime statistics?
I think what has increased is our enforcement of underage drinking laws and drug laws. But the fact that we have had an increase in alcohol citations and drug arrests does not necessarily indicate that the activity is increasing. It indicates that our response to the activity is increasing. As far as spikes in property crimes and crimes against persons, there is nothing that is really out of the ordinary as far as crime statistics go.
Aside from Police Cadets, are there any new initiatives or programs the department is working on?
The biggest one is more training for our officers. We have come to realize that the police role on a university campus in this day and age is different from what it was just a couple of years ago. We have major training initiatives in the police department in progress; for example, something known as “active shooter” training, which is how to engage a person who is in one of our buildings killing people. We also have civil disturbance training, how we would control an unruly crowd of people at a demonstration, athletic event, or big postgame party. So our police department is aggressively working on specialized training for the patrol officers that will help us better take care of the concerns we have in the modern day.
What is your main goal for the next calendar year?
We are hoping to upgrade our communications and dispatch center with the technology and personnel to deal with everything that comes to our attention. So we have put requests through the budget process to increase the manpower and the technology in our 24-hour communication center. If that happens sometime during the next calendar year, that would greatly enhance our police department.