UMass police object to Mount Ida security plan

  • Holbrook Hall at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s new Mount Ida campus. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/8/2018 10:06:36 PM

AMHERST — Unions representing the police patrol officers and supervisors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are worried that the safety of students who will study at the new Mount Ida campus in Newton is being compromised by the use of private, unarmed security guards.

“Our biggest concern is the safety of students down there,” said Justin Green, president of New England Police Benevolent Association Local #190. The union represents the rank-and-file members of UMass Police.

“If I were a parent of a student living on the Mount Ida campus this fall, an employee or a visitor to the campus, I’d be calling the UMass president and asking him why my child, myself or coworkers aren’t being afforded the same level of security and police response as the students, staff and public at the flagship UMass campus in Amherst,” Green said.

But UMass Amherst spokeswoman Mary Dettloff said in an email that an appropriate level of public safety and security will be available during the fall semester at what is being called the Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst.

“Internal Security Associates, a private firm with an established background in campus security, has been hired to have staff on duty around the clock,” Dettloff said. “Procedures are in place to contact Newton Police for any assistance if required.”

In addition, Dettloff noted that UMass Environmental Health and Safety is deploying its emergency alerts system at Mount Ida, where two full-time members of the Residential Life staff will be working.

Fewer than 100 students will be living on the new campus, and combined with staff there will only be about 200 people at Mount Ida during the fall semester. When Mount Ida closed in the spring, 800 students were housed in dorms there, Dettloff said.

Matthew Malo, president of the union representing police supervisors, the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 432B, issued a statement expressing similar concern about the public being endangered at Mount Ida by a security plan that is “lacking to non-existent.”

“We are deeply troubled by the flawed rollout of UMass Amherst’s security plans for the Mount Ida property,” Malo said. “The administration has given little to no thought to the protection of the UMass students, faculty and staff at the Mount Ida campus.”

Green said the acquisition of the campus 90 miles from Amherst comes despite the fact that UMass Police has a depleted force and is at a 20-year low in staffing.

The department, Green said, currently has 29 patrol officers, compared to the 43 it had less than a decade ago, and that it’s trying to play catch up with new recruits to replace retirees. A typical day features just three patrol officers and one supervisor to handle the thousands of people on campus.

Green said services at the flagship campus have been reduced, that horse and bike units don’t have resources to be on duty on a regular basis, and the K-9 units no longer exist. This comes even though details are needed for the numerous sporting events on campus, including football, basketball and hockey games.

“The frustration level comes because we’ve already expressed this,” Green said.

Dettloff said UMass police officers have been offered the opportunity to work straight time shifts at the Mount Ida campus, but no officer has expressed interest to date. This offer is based on a contract requiring that police service for UMass Amherst be provided by officers.

Green described this offer as a “fabrication” and that it is not plausible to send current officers to the campus, when the department is already understaffed.

Dettloff said that Margolis Healy, a professional services company specializing in campus safety, security and regulatory compliance for higher education, will assess the needs for the Mount Ida campus. The company will undertake a study to help determine future staffing and physical security requirements.

Though Chief Tyrone Parham was hired more than two years ago to oversee the department, Green said enhancing the department with more personnel hasn’t yet happened.

“Since Chief Parham has been here not a lot of momentum has been made,” Green said.

He said he is worried about the accreditation standard and compliance with the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The accreditation process mandates that the department agrees to meet and uphold the standards set forth by the accredited agencies.

The use of private security guards, instead of municipally-trained UMass police officers, appears to be problematic in maintaining accredited status, Green said.

Green said that federal reporting requirements under the federal Jean Clery Act for college campuses may not happen if a private company is doing security.

Dettloff said that security arrangements for the Mount Ida campus are in full compliance with state and federal regulations, including procedures for required reporting under the Clery Act.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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