Mills has finally found a new Director of Public Safety after an exhaustive search process that stretched over several months.
Vice President of Business Affairs Karen Maggio announced in an e-mail last Tuesday that the position was given to former law enforcement officer Michael Lopez.
Although this is Lopez's first time coordinating safety initiatives on a college campus, he has extensive experience in public safety.
"I come with 33 years of law enforcement experience. Not only at the municipal level but also at the county level. I was a deputy sheriff, I was a sergeant, and then a lieutenant. I got a lot of experience that way," said Lopez.
Lopez is also an Emergency Incident Manager for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and intends to apply his expertise to review the college's Emergency Preparedness Operations.
"We are pleased to have such an experienced and qualified candidate fill this important college role," said Maggio in her e-mail announcement.
According to Lopez, students can expect a number of changes to the department. Some of his ideas to improve Public Safety include hiring more shift supervisors for officers, reviewing the transportation syste, and improving student escort and disaster preparedness systems. Lopez said that he is also reviewing the school's contract with the private security firm Guardsmark, and assessing whether or not to make changes.
"I think he has a lot of ideas that are practical and could be put in place," said Dean of Students Joanna Iwata, who was on the hiring committee. "He's very action oriented."
As for the ongoing parking crisis, Lopez is aware that there is a problem. "Right now there's just a shortage, but we need approximately a hundred more spots right now, and we're looking at that," said Lopez.
Some of the avenues the department is considering include building a parking structure, reorganizing class schedules and relaxing some parking restrictions. "I'm also looking at a concept called zip cars where we have cars available for students and staff that are available per hour," said Lopez.
However, Lopez was quick to add that parking in a red zone is strictly against the rules.
Lopez also acknowledged that there is some debate among students as to how to conduct front gate security. As per policy, those without Mills permits should be required to produce identification, but according to Lopez, how this policy is implemented is a matter of politics.
"Let's talk about the complete security of the campus. If you don't have a Mills permit you should be required to produce ID. But how long will that take and how long will there be a jam at that gate? And how many complaints will that generate before it gets to Mills Hall?" said Lopez.
In response to this problem, Lopez said they've opened a second lane during commute hours.
A hiring team comprised of college administrators, students and faculty members selected Lopez. One of two students who participated in the hiring committee, senior and English major Caroline Cadwell, said that Maggio reviewed over 100 applications and then narrowed the pool of applicants down to between 6 to 8 candidates. Once this small pool of finalists were selected, students were incorporated into the decision making process.
"Within the committee some people wished there were more options but everyone is confident that the person selected would be able to do the job successfully," said Cadwell.
According to Cadwell, only one of the finalists was female. Cadwell said that Niviece D. Robinson, who has served as interim director since Dan Brown stepped down from the position last fall, was offered the position but declined to take it. Instead Robinson will be continuing on with public safety in a senior management role.
Iwata said that hiring committee members were not only looking for someone with experience and knowledge around safety initiatives and emergency response systems, but also someone who could deal with the unique needs of Mills students.
Cadwell said that one of her initial concerns when reviewing candidates was whether or not they would improve student relationships with public safety. "I wanted to know if they were the type to make themselves available to the students or the type to hide in the office," said Cadwell.
In last week's e-mail announcing the decision, Maggio encouraged students to stop by Lopez's office and share their concerns with him. But despite numerous visits from fellow administrators and an open door policy for students, Lopez said that not many students have met with him.
"I'm here all the time," said Lopez. "I'm also going to make myself available on weekends because I want to see what's happening during non-school hours."