York’s New Director of Public Safety, James Assmann Talks of the Future of Campus Security

Q: What is your history in public safety?

A: I began my journey at Queensborough Community College in 2003 as a Patrol Officer. Before that, I was a student at Queensborough. I would see the Public Safety Officers on campus and was curious as to what they were all about. Up until that point, I had no idea what a Peace Officer was. I always enjoyed helping others and I had a talent for mediating conflict. I knew that public service was the path for me! I inquired about working for Public safety and was informed of all of the benefits that CUNY had to offer. 

After serving over 5 years as a Patrol Officer, I passed the exam for Sergeant and was promoted in 2009. I oversaw 30 Officers and Security Assistants. I served QCC for over 16 years.  I worked closely with SGA to create student-facing, Officer led leadership and safety workshops. I am proud to be the first Officer at QCC to participate in Student Activities’ annual leadership weekend. I also spent several years as a police topics instructor for the Division of Criminal Justice Services.

 In 2019, I was promoted to lieutenant and started a new chapter of my career at the Borough of Manhattan Community College where I managed a staff of over 80 Public Safety members. We were responsible for the safety of approximately 27,000 students, and numerous faculty, staff, and visitors.  While at BMCC, I helped promote the Academy of Leadership and Service, which allows student volunteers to engage in leading roles in various fields, including Public Safety. During the Pandemic, we began a Student Safety Ambassador program, where students would help public safety provide information to the college community, helping with Access passes, providing escorts, and ensuring compliance with CUNY policies. The student ambassadors were paid by the campus and eventually began helping several departments. At BMCC I oversaw the first Division of Criminal Justice Services certified Procedural Justice Course for CUNY Officers, which is now taught, in our training academy, to all Officers. 

 I now have the privilege to serve as the Chief of Public Safety at York College in the neighborhood I was born and raised in. This is not only a great professional accomplishment but a personal one. I believe coming up through the ranks has helped me gain perspective on the needs of my Officers and our department. Furthermore, being a student, starting at QCC, then School of Professional Studies, and now at John Jay, also helps me gain perspective about what we need and desire as students. With that said, I don’t try to assume the needs of everyone. I want to get to know everyone on an individual basis to gain true insight into the concerns of our students and community. 

Q: The recent subway incidents and fake bomb threats have made students and faculty express safety concerns. What steps will you take to ensure their safety on campus and to and from the subway stop?

A: There are several steps that I will take to help increase the safety of our college community.

First, I will evaluate what procedures are currently in place, and revise accordingly to ensure that they comply with best practices based on evidence and available data. 

We already have a virtual Public Safety escort program in place. However, as we increase our staffing levels, we look to provide in-person escorts as well. 

We are currently working closely with surrounding law enforcement agencies, emergency services, and our facilities team so that we can identify and report any potential hazards. 

Secondly, we will notify the campus community of any major activity in the area that may disrupt local travel, campus safety, or cause a potential hazard.  

Thirdly, empower our students, staff, and faculty, helping them realize that we are all one team. The students, staff, and faculty will often recognize a potential hazard before it is reported to the authorities. The old saying “If you see something, say something” is still one of the best safety tools we have. However, if you hear something or smell something also please say something. Report all safety concerns to the Department of Public Safety at 718-262-2222. Also, save the number on your cell phone for quick access. Safety education plays a big part in keeping everyone safe and informed. Public Safety will also conduct office and classroom-specific training on best practices during emergencies. 

Our Public Safety team is in the process of expanding. We are adding additional officers over the next several months who will be well trained and versed in the campus environment. Although our officers are trained in first aid, CPR, and stop the bleed, we look to provide this training for students, staff, and faculty as well. This further empowers our community to protect life, not only here on campus but at home.   

Q: What other security policies are you planning on implementing?

 A: I am spending my first few weeks learning what policies are currently in place, what works well, and what could use improvement. I look forward to reaching out to other departments and our students to hear their feedback as well. 

First, I would love to start a student safety ambassador program on campus. These ambassadors would work in conjunction with Public Safety to help students with information such as, how to access Cleared4, directions to essential offices and websites, and to help ensure that everyone has a valid ID to enter the college and other non-law enforcement/non-security specific duties. I am still working out the details on how such a program will work for York College and I would like to get input from our students before implementing such a plan.

Secondly, we will be expanding our community outreach by incorporating a bike patrol unit, opportunities to meet the chief, and increasing the visibility throughout campus. This will allow for more department transparency and permit our community to share ideas with us.

Thirdly, we will also bring in subject matter experts to help us facilitate safety presentations on topics such as crime prevention, sexual assault, and overall safety awareness.

I will be assessing all current emergency procedures and refining them where needed. This is a continuous process that requires constant re-assessing.   

Q: Can you share an incident where you resolved a security breach?

A: I have dealt with several breaches during my career. I served at both an open campus, and a vertical access-controlled campus. Both areas have unique issues regarding access. Many colleges have a loose access policy that allows anyone to come on to campus with a valid ID to visit the Bursars, Registrar, and so on. Someone would present a valid ID to the front desk and request to go to the Bursar and proceed into the college. On several occasions, those individuals would roam the campus and end up in areas they did not belong. Some have committed crimes, such as vandalism, while on the campus grounds. Many of these issues happened before COVID. The new screening policy has reduced these incidents by quite a bit. However, more can be done in regards to campus visitation policies to increase safety and better scrutinize those seeking access to our campus.

Q: What is your current assessment of safety on York’s campus?

A: I am still in the process of evaluating things but it seems that York College Public Safety has done a good job of keeping the campus safe and keeping any trouble from the outside from spilling onto our campus.  Areas I am reviewing include security at locations of ingress and egress and an updated chart of all emergency partners in the area. On-going joint training with local Police, fire, and EMS. Safety awareness strategies are also very important to share with students, faculty, and staff. This further empowers our community to have the tools to react quickly during an emergency.

Q: Will you be creating a campus community outreach program at York? If yes, how do you plan on doing so? 

A: Yes. In addition to the things I already mentioned, I plan on expanding the avenues of communication between Public Safety and our campus community. 

I will offer tabling events where Public Safety can share information with everyone. This also gives students a chance to sign up for training, and ask questions to their Public Safety team. 

Public Safety will also offer information sessions at several upcoming college events and club meetings when invited.

Q: Is there something you’d like to address that I did not bring up?

A: My philosophy is guided by the golden rule. That is, treat others how you want to be treated, or how you would expect your loved ones to be treated. This is how I treat my team, and how I expect them to treat the college community. I also expect the college community to follow the same principle. My vision is to build a culture of care and mutual respect. Theodore Roosevelt said it best and I quote “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to discuss my background and vision for campus safety! I look forward to forming a great partnership and providing excellent service to our campus community for years to come.

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