Friday, January 22, 2021

University Police takes on new responsibilities as COVID-19 reshapes campus

By Drew Wemple

COVID-19 has reshaped SUNY Plattsburgh’s campus, but it’s also changed its University Police. UP Chief Pat Rascoe believes he and his team have been critical for the reopening of campus.

“We’ve been wearing a lot of hats,” Rascoe said in regards to what the duties of UP have been since students returned. “We’re assisting in the management of the campus’ isolation and quarantine, helping students move into isolation and quarintine and assisting students who need medical help.”

But despite their new responsibilities, UP is still dealing with campus crime. An official report from UP’s crime log stated a fire was started inside of a dumpster outside Moffitt Hall Aug. 29. The fire department and city police were called to respond.

“It was around 10:15 at night,” said sophomore Olivia Parrillio. Parrillo lives in a seventh floor suite in deFredenburgh Hall. Her and many of her suitemates had a perfect view of the fire from their suite window.

“We first heard some yelling and screaming, and then we smelled something burning,” added Parrillo.

UP has launched an investigation into who or what started the fire.

“It appears it was intentionally lit by somebody,” said Rascoe.

Aside from dumpster fires, UP has had to adjust to new COVID protocols. All  officers are required to wear N-95 masks when approaching a vehicle roadside and trained in contact tracing. Contact tracing is where the police can identify the original positive case in a large group of a COVID-19 test.

“It fits perfectly with what we do,” Rascoe added. “We investigate.”

One UP officer Eric Zielinski shared his thoughts on what he feels to be the biggest adjustments for them.

“We just had to get used to wearing the masks. We can’t have everyone in the office at the same time and if we have meetings not everyone can be there,” Zielinski said.

Zielinski also discussed how UP has taken a more educational approach to teaching students about new COVID-19 guidelines.

“The more people we can get to buy into what we’re doing, the longer we can all be here on campus,” Zielinski said.

The police have reacted to COVID-19, but it’s still unclear if the crime will too. Mustafa Demir, an assistant professor of criminal justice at SUNY Plattsburgh, concurred that certain criteria must be met before we can see the effect. In this case, COVID-19 affects crime.

“The dependent variable [crime] must be impacted by the independent variable [COVID-19], COVID must also occur before crime, and there has to be an established cause,” Demir said.

Demir believes it is still too early to monitor the effects considering students just returned to campus.

“We need around six months of data,” Demir added. “It is still too early to assess.”

UP however is focusing on what’s happening now, and that’s keeping our campus safe. Jessica Facteau, a UP investigator, stressed the importance of the campus community doing everything possible to assist them.

“We’re all in this together. Without the students, the faculty, the staff, the police and the Plattsburgh community, we wouldn’t be able to do what we need to do,” Facteau said. “It takes all of us.”

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