Public Safety woes


Avery Bliss

Michael Palagonia

Public Safety is managing to scrape by with the absolute minimum number of officers that can safely run the Johnson State campus.
In recent years, the number of officers, both full and part-time, at JSC has declined, until now they are stretched thin trying to service the campus.
“I’m authorized to have three full-time officers, one part-time administrative assistant and two part-time officers working 16 hours each,” said Michael Palagonia, director of public safety. “If you do the math, that’s just not enough staff for the 168 hours a week. Because we are a 24-hour department, we have to have student officers.”
But the situation didn’t use to be this bad. Up until recently, there were four full-time officers, which meant more coverage from officers who had more time for work. When one of the officers vacated the position, he wasn’t replaced. These departures, along with different cost saving measures across campus, have kept the number of full time members down to three.
One of the biggest gaps in coverage is that of the student officers. The student officers are one of the biggest reasons that JSC can support round-the-clock service.
“We are in the process of getting our student officers hired,” said Palagonia. “It is challenging because the student’s top priority is school.”
At the moment, Public Safety is down the part-time officers that would normally run the Friday through Sunday shifts, and some of the student officers have weekend classes, so it is difficult to juggle the schedule.
“We seldom have people I can just call because they’ve got nothing else to do, so that’s a challenge . . . We don’t have a lot of excess staff,” said Palagonia.
Palagonia said he hopes the Johnson-Lyndon unification results in some savings. These savings, in turn, might help increase the staff, ideally to at least four full-time officers.
“That’s just a hope. No one has promised me that, and I don’t expect them to,” said Palagonia. “But what it comes down to is that right now, the current system, in the words of the Chancellor, ‘It’s just not sustainable.’ We’re not going to get to a point where anybody is going to get more staffing until we are at a point where we’re sustainable and we’re able to realize cost savings or be more efficient.”
But there is good news amongst all of the doom and gloom. Public Safety is currently in the process of hiring two part-time, non-student officers to help with coverage. These are positions that would be responsible for two shifts per week, totaling 16 hours.
“We just hired for one of those, and she will be starting next week,” said Palagonia. “She was a former student officer and graduate from Johnson. And the other position we are still searching for a candidate to fill. Once we get to that point, our overall dependence on student officers will be back to a less dependent state.”
Until that point, the numbers of Public Safety are being boosted by both the student officers and the work-study students. “As far as student officers go, I have a budgetary amount and I spend that how I need to. I also have an overtime budget line that, in times like this, gets used a bit more heavily. And without our work-study allotment as it is, and our non-work-study, we wouldn’t be able to have 24-hour coverage,” said Palagonia.
“With the work-study and the way that it’s changed recently, students are receiving less money,” said Jessica Aupperlee, administrative assistant, at the staff unification Q&A. And once the work-study money is used up in Public Safety, generally the students are put on non-work-study money.
“I don’t have an unlimited amount of non-work-study money, so I have to be very careful,” said Palagonia. “We run incredibly lean, we try to be efficient. There is not a lot of excess coverage or double coverage, however you want to put it. Hopefully we can get through it.”