New security director looks to rebuild community trust

Courtesy of Vassar Media Relations
Courtesy of Vassar Media Relations
Courtesy of Vassar Media Relations

As announced in an all-campus email this summer from Dean of the College Christopher Roellke, the College has officially appointed Arlene Sabo as the new Director of Safety and Security.

According to the online job description, “Reporting to the Dean of Students, the Director of Campus Safety and Security is responsible for the development, implementation, and management of campus security/safety programs and services, including security, environmental health and safety, fire safety, emergency management, and key control” (Vassar College Office of the President, “Director of Safety & Security Position Description”).

It is the Director’s responsibility to oversee campus safety and security in compliance with federal, state and local laws, in addition to the College’s own policies and regulations. The Director is also responsible for managing the recruitment, training and monitoring Safety and Security personnel, as well as the review of all security incidents on campus and ensuring that appropriate follow-up investigative actions to such cases are taken.

Sabo earned her Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Education from Castleton State College and SUNY Potsdam, respectively before completing an additional graduate study in counselor education at SUNY Plattsburgh and earning executive police leadership certification from the FBI National Academy.

She served as the Chief of University Police at SUNY Plattsburgh since 2001, focusing on fair and impartial policing on campus and implementing the school president’s commission on personal safety of students. She previously served as Director of the Equity Commission at SUNY Plattsburgh and as the advisor to Clinton County, New York on the Violence Intervention Project.

Sabo remarked that the application and interview process was extensively thorough, but exciting in that students were involved in the selection process. She commented in an emailed statement, “I was excited to learn students were part of the search committee. Their questions were very insightful. Students bring energy and enthusiasm to the table that makes everything so much more enjoyable.”

She also posited that her time on campus showed her how important the position’s role is to students on campus. “The next round was an on-campus interview,” she wrote. “I spent a day and half at Vassar. It was apparent the campus community and campus administration made this position one of high priority. I met with students, faculty, staff, administrators (including the campus president), the Town Police and Fire, members of Safety and Security, and the entire Search Committee.”

She went on to comment, “When I read the job description my immediate thought was – ‘This was written for me. It plays to all my strengths.’ I am certain that by virtue of who I am as a person and the experience I bring we will make positive progress in important areas. Perhaps even become role models for change for other campuses.”

Reflecting on important part of daily campus functions, she commented on what she felt are her biggest concerns about campus safety and security. She remarked, “I think sometimes people forget that the safety and security of a campus relies upon the involvement of the entire community.”

“We must all do our part,” she continued. “Some challenges are common to most every college campus (alcohol abuse, drug abuse, off campus behavior that negatively affects the community, the well-being and mental health of our students, rape culture, bias related crime, overall safety and security issues, etc.). Some challenges are somewhat unique to Vassar and will need to be addressed uniquely (what does an open campus mean at Vassar, who will step up and become allies for positive change, etc).”

Sabo enters the position inheriting a tenuous relationship with the community, however, particularly in light of strong student concerns about racial profiling on campus. The issue came to a head in April 2014 when police were called to respond to a largely non-white group of local teenagers, and largely tarnished Safety and Security’s already-questionable reputation. At the time, an anonymous student witness wrote, “This recent event is obviously racially charged. This one case is not an anomaly, as VC security has previously called the cops on Black people (students and faculty even) and has a long-standing history of racial discrimination, and there are numerous personal testimonies of similar run-ins with VC security from our student body.”

They continued, “Many students and faculty are perturbed by this occurrence and VC’s complicit sanctioning of racial profiling” (The Miscellany News, “Police respond to call from security,” 04.30.14).

In spite of such concerns, however, Sabo remains confident in her ability to rebuild relations between her position and the surrounding community, in addition to enforcing the rules. “A safety and security department must work in partnership with all members of the community in pursuit of the goal of public safety on campus for all,” she remarked.

She went on to say, “Fostering strong relationships with the campus community, based on mutual trust and cooperation, is imperative to safety and security on campus. I look forward to forging partnerships with students, faculty, and staff to address the many challenges we face.”

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