New Police Chief Shares Public Safety Goals
Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 02:08
Now in his fifth week as the new chief of police and director of the Department of Public Safety, Jay Gruber has already set goals for his term. The Hoya sat down with him to get his perspective on neighborhood relations, student partying and the state of DPS in general.
What is your career background?
I spent 26 years at … the University of Maryland, College Park. I started at the Police Academy there and worked my way through every operational rank. … [I spent] the last 10 years as the assistant chief of police and the assistant director of public safety.
I had the opportunity to retire from the University of Maryland. It worked out well for me because prior to that, I got to do a six-month fellowship with the [Federal Bureau of Investigation] in the police executive fellowship program. It’s a national joint terrorist task force working on campus issues, campus counter-terrorism issues, raising awareness on campuses about terrorism, things like that.
I was assigned to [an FBI] program called the Campus Liaison Initiative. … I helped develop programs and marketing for them to reach out to the campuses to give them information about what to look for in potential terrorists on campus. … I developed a lot of great marketing material that liaison agents could take to the campuses to introduce themselves and what they do.
What does the job of chief of police entail?
My position now is chief of police and director of public safety, so I’m really very focused on just this department, where my predecessor had emergency management, Department of Health and Safety and public safety. I have a lot of responsibility here, not only dealing with the department from an interdisciplinary standpoint — you know, budgets, hiring, personnel, policy, all those things that are germane to the police department — but also being responsible to really be the person — the point person — for public safety and for law enforcement. … A big part of that is dealing with the community and university relationships.
My focus here is interdisciplinary on the day-to-day running of the police department, but it’s also working with the community, working with residence life, working with the different organizations on campus. … That’s the part of the job that I really enjoy, getting out and meeting people.
What weaknesses do you see in the department currently?
Georgetown has a real nice foundation for a lot of their safety infrastructure, access control systems, Blackboard. … They have alarm systems in several places [and] a good lock and key system, but one of the gaps that I see is integrating all that. Georgetown’s in decent shape, but from a 5,000-foot view, I think a second look needs to be taken at how those functions are all integrated together, maybe under one roof or one system of management.
How do you plan to improve relations between the university and the surrounding neighborhood? What is your top priority as chief of police?
I think that a productive town-gown relationship is good for everybody, so I really need to learn that dynamic. I’ve been meeting with some of the [Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E] players; they’re great to work with. They’re exuberant. [Saying] “they’re excited” is putting it mildly.
It’s important for me to keep the community involved. The whole reason we’re here is to support the university, to support the students. So getting information out there is something that’s extremely important, and I want to do that in the most effective way. … [University spokeswoman] Stacy Kerr and I will be working on the best venue to get that information out. You can count on the fact that information is going to be shared with the community.
Students have often complained that DPS is too eager to seek out and punish petty student behavioral breaches and is less effective at stopping property and violent crime. What do you see as the relationship between those two mandates, and do you plan to balance those priorities?
Thankfully for the Georgetown community, crimes against persons aren’t a huge issue, and I’m very thankful for that. Property crime, as I’m quickly learning, is a concern. … There are a couple priorities for us. One is to reduce theft. That’s a major focal point of the coming semester and the coming year.
Now, there’s also another priority for us; it’s keeping students safe, and it’s maintaining order. Trust me, as a police officer, we don’t get a whole lot of joy out of telling students they can’t do something, that they have to stop having a party and things of that nature, because it’s instantly confrontational. Nobody likes confrontation. Not the police officer, not the person being told what they have to do — but we have a responsibility.
If people who are drinking are under the age of 21, we have an obligation to stop that activity. It’s not pleasant, but it’s something that we have to do. People who are under 21 that are intoxicated … are vulnerable. They’re vulnerable to different types of crime. … They’re vulnerable to being assaulted; they’re vulnerable to citizen robbery; they’re vulnerable to having to be taken … to the hospital. So those are all concerns for us.
Unfortunately for the students, when an officer breaks up their party, their reaction is that “the cops are just here to break up my party,” but they don’t see the whole other picture of what they do on campus. Protecting VIPs, controlling the campus, doing plainclothes assignments looking for people ripping off laptops, staking out bikes. They don’t see the whole picture of what public safety does. They see a very small microcosm of that. Maybe part of my job … is to let the university community know we’re doing so many things within public safety. Hopefully through this education process, they’ll have some small appreciation that these officers aren’t just there to break up their parties and make their lives miserable.