There’s more to Penn’s Division of Public Safety than yellow telephone booths and neon vests at every intersection around campus.
DPS has ranked first in safety and security in the higher education sector for the fifth year in a row, according to Security’s “Security 500 list” last November.
The rankings are based on factors such as the size of the organization, spending on security and geographical coverage.
The list was compiled from data supplied by the college or university and those found through public records.
Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush attributes some of the success to their commitment to self improvement.
“We’re constantly looking at ways — tech and personnel, cameras — for us to improve the public safety program. We’re not in a bubble, we know what’s going on,” Rush said. “We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve.”
Wharton senior Hind Hassan has felt really safe on Penn’s campus. “I think security and Penn Police do a really good job of keeping Allied Barton Security around and visible,” she said.
“I haven’t [used PennWalk] but I do have the number,” Wharton freshman Lisa Peng said. “I’ve never gone far enough off campus or walked home late enough at night … but I wouldn’t hesitate to use it if I had the need to.”
The University of Pennsylvania Police Department first achieved accreditation from the Commission on the Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies in March 2001 and has continued to renew it, according to DPS spokesperson Stef Karp.
Penn remains the first and only university in Pennsylvania whose police department has received this accolade and is one of approximately 40 in the entire nation, Karp said.
In the past few decades, DPS has launched numerous initiatives and programs that may have contributed to their high ranking. DPS created the Emergency Response Team — Penn’s Special Weapons and Tactics team — in September 1998, and Penn Police was one of the first police agencies in the Philadelphia area to employ automated external defibrillators in department patrol vehicles.
They have been involved with the University City Lighting Project since 2006, which included the installation of lighting fixtures, street lights, spot lights and pedestrian lighting in the region. The following year, DPS created the UPennAlert Emergency Notification System.
Penn Guardian, a system that enables students to quickly send personal cell phone information to DPS during an emergency, was launched in September 2010.
Rush believes that “everyone has a part” in making the team a laudable force. “The type of people that we look for — whether it’s an administrative assistant or a director and everything in between — we’re looking for people who understand that this is a 24-hour environment, it’s a service environment and our mission is to provide the highest level of security to our community,” she said.
DPS, which currently has 176 personnel, has a rigorous and multi-layered hiring process for police officers. Every hired officer must be certified by the state of Pennsylvania and attend police academy.
They then gather faculty members from offices across the University to help the Penn Police commander interview the candidates.
Afterward, DPS performs a thorough criminal background check by interviewing their candidates’ neighbors and cross-checking references. The final step involves approval from Rush and Police Chief Mark Dorsey.
Rush said they require a lot out of their police applicants.
“They need to understand and appreciate diversity and understand that there are young people who need guidance and support. They need the personality to not just do the basic issues, but also be empathetic, service-oriented and have high emotional intelligence.”
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