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Mayor Michael Nutter speaks at DPS Commendation ceremony Credit: Mi Jiang

Praise from all levels of the Philadelphia community was heaped on Penn Police and the Division of Public Safety during Thursday’s public accreditation hearing.

Representatives from other law enforcement agencies, community leaders and safety professionals all attended the hearing and gave their own unique insights on DPS and Penn Police. Support for reaccreditation was ubiquitous and unanimous.

The hearing was town hall-style, led by Tom Johnson, a retired police officer and current professor at Western Carolina University, and his partner Susan Lowrey, the accreditation manager for University of Vermont Police Services. After their brief introduction, the floor was opened up to those who wished to comment on Penn Police and DPS at large.

Partnership, collaboration and communication were all key themes in the accounts given by the speakers. Maj. Joe Morinkis from the 103rd Engineer Battalion of the PennsylvaniaArmy National Guard had worked with DPS and Penn Police throughout the papal visit and World Meeting of Families. In his comments to the room, he praised the support provided by DPS throughout University City, particularly their transparency in defining and executing goals and expectations. He mentioned that multiple soldiers in his unit commented on the high levels of professionalism and support provided by Penn Police at security checkpoints.

Gregorio Cojulun Jr., who represented Malcom X Memorial Park in West Philadelphia, praised Penn Police’s increased levels of respect toward the community in recent years. He pointed out the members of the community around the park feel protected and safe when Penn Police are around, rather than disrespected and fearful.

Tina McDonnell, a representative from the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House — which houses around 45 families at any given time — alluded to the great sense of security and safety DPS and Penn Police provide the area. She mentioned that the house was particularly appreciative of the support DPS provided during the papal visit in terms of transporting families to and from the hospitals they needed to visit. “There has never been a time when we did not feel safe and secure in the neighborhood,” McDonnell said.

AlliedBarton Security, one of DPS and Penn Police's closest partners, had multiple representatives at the hearing. Jim Gorman, a vice president and general manager for AlliedBarton, stated that he was proud to partner with Penn Police and that they consistently display the utmost professionalism. Al Santosusso, the AlliedBarton district manager assigned to Penn's campus, said that he had never experienced such a seamless partnership in his 25 years working alongside law enforcement professionals. He also stated that the passion that DPS and Penn Police have for public safety inspires his entire team to do better.

One speaker had a more personal experience to share with the room. When Yaya Diakite first came to the United States from Africa in 2005, he said he spoke almost no English and was biased against asking police officers for help. But when he and his mother found themselves unable to find out where they needed to apply for social security cards, they eventually decided to ask a nearby Penn Police officer. Diakite was shocked but pleased when the officer got out of his car and gave them the directions they needed.

Penn administration did not go unrepresented, with Counseling and Psychological Services Director Bill Alexander recognizing the high degree of sensitivity Penn Police display when policing a very unique community of students, staff and residents. He said CAPS collaborates with DPS more than any other organization on campus and that DPS is helpful from “VP Rush all the way down to individual officers.” He was particular in his praise of DPS’ training of its officers and staff to deal with Penn’s community in a respectful yet effective manner.

Our neighbors across 32nd Street also had their fair share of representation. Robert Lis, associate director of investigations for Drexel Public Safety, mentioned the Drexel Police Department probably never could have been started without the help of DPS, and Vice President of Public Safety Maureen Rush in particular. June Kelly and Colin Quinn, who both work on accreditation at Drexel, praised DPS as excellent mentors, partners and professionals. Dave Caristo, a lieutenant for the Drexel University Police Department, said DPS consists of “nothing but the best.”

Bennie Price, deputy director of the Philadelphia Juvenile Probation Department, pointed out the uniqueness of Penn Police’s embrace of the department's values of restorative justice, which includes an emphasis on offender accountability and victim awareness. He also noted that DPS and Penn Police do a great job ensuring that families feel their children are safe while students at Penn.

Major Philadelphia safety operations representatives added their own praise to the event. Officer David Parke of SEPTA police’s K-9 unit praised the open-door policy DPS maintains, particularly regarding the chain of command. He felt like he was treated as a member of their team at all times. Denis Wilson of the Philadelphia Police was keen on DPS — from their GPS-based bike theft programs to the high-end investigative department, Officer Wilson said that Penn Police is constantly emulating DPS’s successes.

Rush herself was pleased with the hearing’s events and speakers. “I was honored to hear the comments from various partners who took the time to come and share their positive experiences with Penn Police and the Division of Public Safety," she said.

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