On April 2, Campus Security gave The Brock Press reporter, Nicholas Blasiak, the opportunity to shadow one of their employees and to explore a day in the life of a Brock Campus Security Officer.
Sean McGrath is a 27-year old Special Constable who has been working with Brock Campus Security Services since 2011. Brock’s Campus Security Services interacts with all level of personnel found on the university campus, including students, administrators, professors, Brock staff and visitors. McGrath’s duties range from ensuring safety, responding to complaints, crime prevention, patrolling Brock’s multiple facilities, lost and found services and working alongside other Brock staff.
“The job is a lot like policing but on a much smaller scale. It’s called community-oriented policing and we try to be a presence for students, staff and everyone in the community to feel safe on campus at all times, so they can go about their daily lives,” said McGrath.
McGrath was born in Sarnia, Ontario, but when he was still young, his family moved to Niagara Falls. His father is an OPP officer, so McGrath grew up exposed to the world of law enforcement.
“When you’re a kid, you see the cool uniform and car. When I got older that’s when I realized it’s about crime prevention, serving the community and making a difference in peoples’ lives. I’d say it was my father who inspired me to go into the police foundations program at Niagara College,” recalls McGrath.
Last May, McGrath was promoted within Campus Security Services and sworn in by the Niagara Regional Police. This provides him with the authority to act as a peace officer, investigating criminal and provincial offenses on the Brock campus.
McGrath works a four-days on, four-days off schedule, with shifts lasting 12 hours on days and 10 hours on nights. On April 2, he was working a morning shift which began at 6:30 a.m. There was plenty of activity happening on the campus as Alumni Field hosted multiple rugby games, the Walker Complex was used for a local basketball tournament and students walked around the campus going about their daily activities.
“It’s usually pretty quiet on Saturday mornings, students tend to sleep in after a Friday night. We get a lot of high school kids coming on campus to play tournaments this time of year. It’s a good opportunity to interact with them and their parents because they may become Badgers themselves one day,” said McGrath.
Before McGrath could head out in the cruiser for patrols, he waited for a student who had called beforehand in search of a lost debit card.
“When it’s slower like this you become a ‘jack of all trades’. Students and staff will call in for access to different areas of the school and we verify the authorization and carry that out,” said McGrath.
Once the debit card was returned, McGrath began patrolling Brock’s many properties in a Campus Security cruiser. McGrath explained that each platoon, consisting of two peace officers and two contract guards, divide the campus into zones, for which each officer is responsible. McGrath’s zone was the perimeter and outdoor locations owned by the university.
The first stop was the Central Utility Building (CUB) which is the building that is used by tradespeople who maintain the campus and are integral for the proper functioning of the school’s facilities. McGrath provided the keys to the CUB’s storeroom for a worker who was changing all of the lighting fixtures in the Thistle complex lecture halls. Continuing on the standard patrol, McGrath made his way to Quarry View residence and then down the Schmon Parkway in Thorold where Brock owns several plots of land. Since Brock also leases the land adjacent to the East Academic building to McDonalds and Tim Hortons, Campus Security is also responsible and on call for these businesses as well. Officer McGrath then made a point to patrol the Zone Two parking lot and noted the importance of Campus Security presence in this area, due to the recent media release about a suspicious man who indecently exposed himself to students in the lot.
“Every student received an email about the incident so when they see us patrolling the area it eases their worries about it happening again. It’s our responsibility to proactively look for the person to identify him and follow up on the media release,” said McGrath.
He also commented that this wasn’t the first instance of a man harassing students in the campus parking lot. There was a man who would allegedly go up to students, kiss their feet and then run away.
“It happened six years ago, but that was before my time. The story has probably been exaggerated over the years, I mean there’s always three sides to every story,” said McGrath.
McGrath made note of the BUSU-run Foot Patrol Service available to students who need to walk to their cars on campus and also encourages students who are in this situation to call campus security, who will happily provide them with an escort to their vehicle.
While eating lunch and patrolling the Flora Egerton Way parking lot, a call came in over the radio system. A disturbance had taken place in Market Hall; McGrath and contract guard, Shayne Stevenson, congregated in front of the Tower.
“I like to respond to investigative calls like this with another [campus security personnel] present. You never know when you might miss something that they pick up on or when a situation can escalate. It’s always good to have backup,” said McGrath.
McGrath and Stevenson entered a managerial Market Dining Services office where the staff recounted a theft which had just taken place. After this statement, McGrath questioned the student who cooperated and admitted responsibility for the incident.
“The next step in a case like this is that I would generate a report and the student will have a meeting with the student discipline council who will decide a restorative punishment. That could be anything from community service to paying restitution for the stolen item,” said McGrath.
Back at the Campus Security office, McGrath filled out the report, which took approximately twenty minutes.
“You could have a Friday night with two calls and then a Saturday morning that is very busy, which is something you wouldn’t expect. It’s impossible to predict how our services will be needed [from day to day]. That’s why you need a 24 hour service,” commented Mike Pataran, the Senior Platoon Supervisor.
“This is a small community and we work with students to resolve issues internally, it makes a difference when students cooperate.”
After the report was filed, McGrath returned to patrolling his zone of the campus. He drove down the Glenridge hill towards the Brock Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC) which also falls under his jurisdiction. While patrolling on University Road West, a student exited from one of the offices behind the Tower and waved him down. He told McGrath that there was a medical emergency: a student had gone unconscious, and paramedics were on their way.
McGrath immediately radioed his platoon, allocated Janice Warner to the Isaac Brock Circle to direct the ambulance and requested for backup. He then entered the office, got bystanders to clear a space for paramedics and administered first aid on the unconscious student. Paramedics arrived on the scene shortly after and took over for McGrath who then went about collecting information and interviewing bystanders for a formal report.
“We’re not here to just open doors or be the lost and found, we’re here for people when they’re at their worst whether that’s a medical emergency or when someone isn’t using their best judgement. We were really lucky this time. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time to make this a smooth process for the paramedics,” said McGrath.
The rigours of the job are many, and are far too often taken for granted by the people who benefit from the security services these officers provide. McGrath admitted that it is very rare for officers to find out what the outcome of their efforts is unless they run into the particular student they worked with.
“If you think about every call you respond to, it’ll destroy you. You just have to think that you and your platoon did everything to the best of your abilities and you helped someone at the end of the day,” said McGrath.
McGrath recalled an incident during his second week working for Campus Security Services, a student had suddenly died on the Walker basketball court. After he had responded to the call the university contacted him offering support from a trained psychologist if he needed it.
McGrath himself is a part-time student who is currently working towards an undergraduate degree in Sociology at Brock. He additionally coaches high school football and works auxiliary for the Niagara Regional Police force.
“My overall goal is to move onto a police service one day. I still have that drive to match my father, because that’s where he is. But if I was to stay here forever I would be happy with that too. The experience and community is great,” said McGrath.
In fact, McGrath claims that interacting with students comprises a significant part of the job.
“You meet so many funny kids out there. My partner and I were walking through Village residence a few weeks ago and the kids came up to us asking what we were doing. They started calling us ‘22 Jump Street’ and I said if that was true, I was Channing Tatum and my partner was Jonah Hill – they loved it,” recalled McGrath.
McGrath also reflected that not all individuals on campus share this cooperative and lighthearted attitude towards law enforcement. Arrests are admittedly rare on campus, but McGrath has been in a situation requiring this action.
“It was simple trespassing. I asked a kid to leave the Village residence because he was causing a disturbance and he wasn’t a Brock student. He wouldn’t comply and after asking multiple times. Sooner or later, you have to take action,” said McGrath.
McGrath also notes the complexities which can be involved in any call made to security services. “Like in law enforcement, the world is always changing, every call is different. Something minor can evolve into so much more. You could be dealing with a student who had something stolen and that can lead into a more serious mental health issue. We like to be proactive and assist with issues we see and refer them to something like student at risk to deal with their issue. Everything changes, no call is the same and that’s probably the most difficult, part but that’s also what makes this job interesting. You’re not in a cubicle all day and you need to be a certain type of person.”
Another lifestyle adjustment that is necessitated by working with Campus Security Services is the absurd sleeping schedule which changes multiple times every week. McGrath admits that he adopted his father’s technique to deal with the readjustment process between morning and night shifts.
“I try to stay up late to get my body ready and I’ve been doing that since 2010. I try to get at least six hours sleep,” said McGrath.
There is a common discourse perpetuated by the media and recent events in the USA that law enforcement, and by extension security services, are useless and overaggressive.
“I’m sure that people associate what they see in the media with law enforcement and we’re going to get that response from certain people. Myself personally, I’ve never experienced this and I believe everyone seems to respect us,” said McGrath.
All of campus security personnel are trained in de-escalation techniques, they understand our position as young adults who are away from home for the first time and wanting to get that genuine collegiate experience.
“We know you want to get through university without a criminal record and we want to work with students, not against them,” commented Pataran.
In the end, these officers are here for a reason and are deserving of respect and gratitude from not only students, but anyone who frequents the university campus.
“There are times on the job when you see people at their absolute worst. When you can help somebody and changed the outcome of their day it’s a pretty good feeling knowing you’ve gotten someone through a tough situation. We want people to feel safe and go about their lives normally at Brock; we try to do that for all staff, faculty, students and visitors,” said McGrath.
Assistant Campus News Editor