Whenever former University Police Detective Heather Sturzenegger met with a victim-survivor, she’d haul the office couch and lamps into Public Safety’s sole questioning room in an attempt to make the space more comfortable.
A new $14.5 million, 25,000-square-foot building that opened last November means that furniture shuffle is no longer necessary. “It makes a huge difference,” says Sturzenegger—who was recently made chief of staff and helps oversee external public safety agencies and coordinates resources.
After nearly 60 years of using a repurposed World War II Army barracks as its operations headquarters, the department and its visitors will now benefit from the state-of-the-art facility designed to foster increased collaboration between the community and the department.
And the new building isn’t the only major improvement. The department has also established a victim advocate program, a student ambassador program, and dedicated personnel to work with hospital staff and security teams. Additionally, with 94 percent turnover since 2019, recruitment has focused on hiring more women and officers of color to be representative of the community they serve. Kimberly Barnett BS’99 MPA’04 was recently named the new deputy chief safety officer for support services. And a national search is underway to fill a new deputy chief safety officer for police services position.
University Public Safety is training officers to understand mental health challenges to help them better assess situations and react with more de-escalating options. Safety leadership has also implemented a new policy to change the language of policing, and officers will no longer say these three things:
• There’s nothing we can do.
• Why did you wait to report this crime?
• What do you want me to do?
Chief Safety Officer Keith Squires, the former head of the Utah Department of Public Safety, is overseeing the implementation of these and many other updates to the department. Prior to working at the U, Squires was tasked with reviewing and evaluating the department’s actions following Lauren McCluskey’s murder by a man she had briefly dated in October 2018.
“This is a transformational time,” says Squires. “I am honored to continue leading this vision and creating a culture of safety for everyone at the U.”
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It’s great to see the University Department of Public Safety taking significant steps to improve safety and support for their community. The new building, victim advocate program, student ambassador program, and dedicated personnel are all positive developments, and the department’s focus on diversity and mental health training for officers is commendable. Chief Safety Officer Keith Squires’ commitment to creating a culture of safety is truly inspiring. Well done!