Multiple departments at Lehigh have been reorganized to create a Division of Campus Safety, directed by Lehigh University Police Chief Jason Schiffer.
The Campus Safety Division includes the integration of: the Lehigh University Police Department (LUPD) and security guards; Lehigh’s Campus Safety Communications Center; the Identification, Electronic Access and Locksmith (IDEAL) Office; Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Medical Services.
The Campus Safety Division was created with the intent of “increased collaboration and coordination of safety, prevention and emergency-related functions across the university,” Vice President for Finance and Administration Patricia Johnson said in an email to campus announcing the creation of the division.
In this setup, Schiffer is tasked with directing, planning and managing all functions and operations of the division, Johnson said. He will also be an advisor to the university’s leaders on topics of public safety and law enforcement.
Schiffer said one of the reasons for the creation of the Campus Safety Division is that previously, there were multiple departments on campus that had a safety-related mission and with this initiative, the intent is to coordinate their efforts.
“One of the big goals of the campus safety division is to coordinate, communicate (and) develop policies and procedures across all of those different areas,” Schiffer said.
With the creation of this division, Schiffer assumed the new role of assistant vice president of Campus Safety, along with being chief of police.
Schiffer said as assistant vice president of Campus Safety he still is reporting to Johnson.
Since the LUPD is one of the components of the Campus Safety Division, Johnson said the person reporting to Schiffer from the LUPD is Director of Operations and Assistant Chief of Police Chris Houtz. She said Houtz deals with the daily operations of the police department.
Johnson said she does not see the positions being a conflict of interest, having Schiffer in both roles: chief of police and assistant vice president of Campus Safety.
Johnson said there is a plan to eventually separate the two titles.
“If it does get to be a burden, that is something that we will evaluate again in the future,” Johnson said. “We suspect that what will happen is over time, as (Schiffer) continues to flesh out the operation, that he might not use the chief title anymore.”
She said the new setup is to ensure that all offices are on the same page and looking at safety from a holistic perspective.
Assistant Professor of anthropology Allison Mickel said she is concerned with the structure of the Campus Safety Division. She said while it is not an expansion of the police department at Lehigh, she believes it remains an expansion of police oversight since they have elevated the role of the police chief.
“As much as they will say that that’s not the case, that is fundamentally what is happening because the police chief (is) now given oversight over all these departments,” she said. “When you promote somebody from the police department, and you don’t make them leave their role as a police officer, you have expanded the role of policing on this campus.”
Vice President for Equity and Community Donald Outing said the integration of offices within the Campus Safety Division offers more options in how to respond to incidents that arise. He said this gives Schiffer more breadth to access response measures other than just officers.
“If you only have one asset at your discretion, and that is the patrolman, then your response is always going to be (a) patrolman,” Outing said. “But if you now say you have someone who has agency now to work across health and wellness, campus policing, emergency, medical and safety units, they can now assess the situation and say, ‘This is the team that would be appropriate to respond for this particular incident.’”
Schiffer said the option to work across offices did exist previously, but the Campus Safety Division makes it more seamless.
He said in the past, EMS and LUPD had their own radio systems, so in the event their services were needed in an emergency, dispatchers would have to make two separate calls for the police and EMS. Schiffer said the Campus Safety Division is working to merge into one cohesive radio system by next fall. He said the new system will also allow EMS to communicate directly with Bethlehem paramedics.
The Campus Safety Division was created at the end of 2021. Johnson said the creation was in line with topics brought up in the LUPD Review Committee investigation. The Campus Safety Division was created before the LUPD Review Committee Report was made public.
Professor and member of the LUPD Review Committee Holona Ochs said it was the review committee’s strong recommendation that the policing footprint on Lehigh’s campus should shrink.
She said she was surprised when the Campus Safety Division was created.
“We did make strong recommendations in terms of shifting the culture, we made strong recommendations for focus, a focus on public safety, over-policing, in the language and in our practices,” Ochs said. “So instead of policing and punishments, our focus should be more on keeping people — all people on campus — safe.”
Mickel said while she believes Schiffer cares about anti-racism, the school should not be making structural changes around individual people’s personalities.
“We are hanging by a thread named Jason Schiffer,” she said.