Behind the scenes of the Stevens PD: what they do to keep students safe

Lisa Mengotto

They’re always there, always watching, always interacting with the student body, and always going out of their way to help however they can. But what does the Stevens Police Department do behind the scenes to keep students safe?

Tim Griffin has been the department’s chief for eight years. After graduating from the FBI Academy, known as Quantico, in 2001, Griffin was a captain in the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office’s Rapid Deployment Team (RDT), and the chief of the West New York Police Department. He came to Stevens with not only with vast experience, but also an immense desire to help.

Prior to Griffin’s arrival, the Stevens Police Department was staffed with Class 2 officers, meaning that when they leave campus, their jurisdictional power as police officers ends. Their average experience as an officer was between two and three years. Currently, officers of the Stevens Police Department are commissioned officers, meaning they have statewide jurisdiction, on and off campus, at any time. Their average experience is over 25 years as an officer collectively. We now have officers who were at the very top of their municipalities—captains and chiefs—who are serving Stevens at a lower rank, which shows their enduring commitment to this university and its students, faculty and staff.

It is because of these officers and the positive changes Griffin and company have made, that Stevens was recently ranked the first safest school in New Jersey and 29th in the nation in the NICHE’s safety report, as voted on by students.

“Working in a municipality,” said Griffin, “it is easy to lose sight of why you became an officer in the first place: to protect and serve… [and] to help people in real, meaningful ways.” At Stevens, they get to do just that. Griffin likes to tell parents of incoming freshman to think of the Stevens Police Department as “fathers with badges.”

Officers often give rides to students in inclement weather, especially those who are injured and/or on crutches. In fact, Griffin says students often come to officers privately, seeking help dealing with personal issues, and officers are happy to go out of their way to help. The Stevens Police want to work with the students, and building a relationship of trust is key to that. New Jersey has a Good Samaritan law, which offers legal protection to people seeking assistance for those who they believe to be ill, injured, or otherwise unable to seek help for themselves. The police here aren’t out to “get students”—they want to make sure that having fun remains safe, and that everyone gets to go home in good shape.

Behind the scenes, the Stevens Police Department conducts a tremendous amount of emergency planning, including planning for an active shooter on campus. “’It won’t happen here, not to us’ is no longer an acceptable attitude,” Griffin says. “We need to be prepared for the day we all hope never comes.”

Officers recently took part in a week-long active shooter training program, which is designed to teach them to work in small groups of officers and respond immediately to shots fired without waiting for specialized SWAT teams. All officers will attend this training by the end of the school year. They are also scheduled to take part in true-to-life simulation training in a high tech dome. A small group of officers have already taken the training where they were placed in this dome, which was programmed to simulate an active shooter on a college campus.

Officers were required to draw their weapon (which in this case would only work virtually) and use strong vocal commands to control the situation. An operator in an external room controlled the active shooter and could manipulate the situation. Officers were required to wear a special belt which would stun them should they take virtual fire, to simulate that they could still keep fighting, still save lives even if they were hurt.

Officers emerged from this dome sweating, out of breath, and emotional. The simulation requires officers to make life or death decisions and is never to be taken lightly.

The Stevens Police Department is planning a presentation about an active shooting for all students, faculty, and staff, which has already been shown to the RAs, who believe the entire campus needs to see it. It will demonstrate the myths and realities of an active campus shooting. Officers are aiming to shed light on how students should react, and reassure students that our officers are highly trained in handling matters of this kind.

The Stevens Police Department has more equipment in its cars than any other department in the county. They are equipped for a high level of response to any kind of situation, anywhere in Hoboken. From shotguns in each vehicle, to tactical vests and fire rescue gear, Stevens officers are equipped and trained for any situation that may arise.

The Stevens Police Department works closely with the Hoboken Police Department, especially regarding students who live off campus. Together both departments analyze crime trends within Hoboken, work with students living off campus, especially in dealing with bike thefts, and in responding to crucial events. Recently, Stevens officers assisted the Hoboken Police Department in dealing with a bomb threat that was not associated with the university.

In addition to these responsibilities, the Stevens Police Department has a lot to do with alcohol and drug awareness, gun safety, and theft awareness. They even ran a seminar teaching students how to properly jump start a car and change a tire. Furthermore, the Stevens Police Department works closely with Fire Safety Coordinator Dan Cunning, who they say has been instrumental in making this campus a safer place, and has lowered the number of popcorn-related fire alarm incidents.