By RIPKEN SMITH
After sexual assault allegations came out against William Somers, a former sergeant of the UMW Police Department, many people speculated as to how this event could have occurred.
An article by The Blue & Gray Press regarding the Somers’ story, titled “Former UMW sergeant arrested for sexual assault,” released on Jan. 29, drew attention to the application process for prospective police officers here on campus.
Students such as freshman Maddie Reid still express concerns with the hiring process. “I am not sure on how the University hires its officers, but I don’t think they would hire people that they knew would cause harm to the students or faculty,” Reid said.
Some of the concerns may originate from lack of knowledge of how the hiring process could work. UMW’s Chief of Police Michael Hall was unable to shed light on how the old hiring process was conducted since he had not been employed by the University until after Somers had been hired.
“Although it was different when Somers came to UMW in 2011, I still feel responsible,” Hall said. Since Hall has been in office, only certified law enforcement officers have been eligible for campus police positions. If they are not certified then they cannot proceed to the rest of the application.
After completing the initial online application, candidates are then screened by a panel. If they pass the screening, candidates must take a written exam and score above a 75 percent in order to proceed to the fitness exam. Following the fitness exam, a panel interview is conducted where the panel asks about 10 to 12 questions to help find out whether or not the applicant would be a good fit in the community. Succeeding the panel interview the applicant must sign disclosure forms in order for the University to investigate the individual’s background history.
During this investigation, current officers journey to the applicant’s community to find more information about the applicant’s personality and how they interact with members of their community. If the applicants pass this investigation, they would then need to get a psychological and medical examination.
These two exams cost on average about $1,200, a cost that is covered by the university, according to Hall. If the applicant then passes these exams they are offered a possible employment position depending on what the finalizing committee says. This committee is made up of officers, school officials and residence life administrators. Recently, UMW has hired two new campus police officers using this application process.
On Feb. 10, the two new campus police officers, John Piersol and Melissa Catterton, started work. Piersol has an extensive background with law enforcement working in the Metropolitan Police Department and the Prince William County Police Department. Catterton worked as a deputy in Caroline County where she was awarded for her “heads up action and attention to detail,” the Caroline Progress, an online publication, said.
Hall said that as a female officer, Catterton could help bridge the gap between men and women in the department. Having a female officer could also be asset to the department as 65 percent of the student body are women.
After working in previous law enforcement departments, the two new officers havegained knowledge of how to react in certain circumstances. “The experience these new officers have will help the department better interact with the community,” Hall said.
Freshman Christopher Cummings believes that the new officers will give UMW Police ahead start in the right direction when it comes to emergencies.
“The UMW police are really helpful and they are there when you need them. I did not know that they were hiring more officers but I think that it’s great because they can respond faster to emergencies with more personnel,” Cummings said.
After the sexual assault allegations against Somers, some students have felt some disconnect between the student community and the campus police.
“There were no indications of anything out of the ordinary, and the incident wasn’t something that he, the school nor the department saw coming,” Hall said.
Junior education major, Sheree Turner said she has had a positive experience with UMW Police and hopes trust will continue to rebuild between the department and students.
“They are extremely friendly,” Turner said. “When I first got to UMW I didn’t talk to very many people but the officers were always welcoming. I hope that these new officers are a good addition to the team and help to bring back trust between the students and the department.”
Even with an extensive application process, individuals still have the ability to make bad judgments and decisions. “A large amount of people have the misconception that the application process will weed out an individual that may commit some future bad act,” Hall said.
Even though there is already an extensive application process in order to become a campus police officer, UMW Police is still looking for more steps to add to the process. These steps will only be added if there is a greater possibility to uncover more information that may be useful in determining whether or not the applicant will be a good fit for the position.
One process under consideration, according to Hall, is using a polygraph test, essentially a lie detector test. The polygraph test and its implementation in the hiring process is currently under review by the department.