Wilkes moving forward with sworn police force

Wilkes University Police Chief Chris Jagoe said his department has continued to transition to a fully sworn police department.

Numerous updates to the department — now known as the University Police Department, or UPD — occurred over the summer and will continue to be implemented in what Jagoe described as “measured terms.”

However, the term “Public Safety” will not be erased from Wilkes lingo. UPD will fall underneath the umbrella of Wilkes University Public Safety as a whole. Transportation and parking are two other functions of Public Safety.

In addition to 19 sworn armed officers, Jagoe said the university will continue to maintain a staff of unarmed officers for parking enforcement, special events, University Towers and Evans Hall late-night desk duty, assisting with the Colonel Connector along with foot patrols. Prior to the start of the transition, staff members were typically referred to as public safety officers, or PSOs. Now, Jagoe said, staff members will be referred to as just officers, just like in a traditional township or city police department.

Jagoe hailed the many benefits to the transition, as well as applauding Wilkes University’s efforts to remain a progressive institution.

“It’s safe to say that we are constantly looking at new and innovative tools of the trade, as well as methods of policing in delivering outstanding police services to the community,” Jagoe said. “We’re always looking at different ways to do that, whether it’s through additional training or equipment.”

One of those innovative tools is the ability to have access to a national database that contains a wealth of information and access to additional resources.

“If we stop someone, we can run their name and date of birth to determine whether or not they are wanted,” Jagoe said. “We can look at criminal history and things of that nature. We can find out if someone has a history of violence of (Protection From Abuse Orders).Becoming a law enforcement agency, we’re now able to apply for grants. We can look at things like grants for body armour, grants for less lethal weapons and other equipment.

Jagoe also confirmed that being arrested by UPD could lead to being placed in a holding cell at the station.

“Before I was hired, we already had two holding cells in the station,” Jagoe said. “We needed to expand that a little bit more for an arrest processing area.

Jagoe also explained how the arrest process can be cumbersome at times, but still an option that is necessary.

“For the vehicle, a lot of times, if someone is arrested and they have to be taken before a magistrate, it could be local or it could be as far away as Hazleton,” Jagoe said. “So, we have to transport people. We were able to work some magic with a local installer to put a cage car in our Ford Explorer.”

One of the strongest points of emphasis from Jagoe was the community policing aspect of the department. Even with the expanded power and capabilities of the force, he said the Wilkes community could expect plenty of visibility from officers.

“We’re not going to be a department where you just see us driving around in cars,” Jagoe said. “We’re still going to have the officers out on foot and on bike, being visible and being approachable. We still embrace all the concepts of community policing and trying to ensure what the students, faculty and staff seeing us, they know that we’re a resource to be able to help them.”

While the university’s police department will now have arrest powers, Jagoe said the goal is not to arrest anyone for smaller issues.

“What I’ve found is that the students are more concerned at what happens at the university level than if they get a $50 citation for an open container or something like that,” Jagoe said. “If we’re embracing the concept of being the people that we want folks to come to when they’re in trouble, we can’t come down with an iron fist now that we have arrest powers and things of that nature. We can’t operate in a manner that changes the trust the public has in us.”

Many questions arose from UPD’s potential role in searching on-campus living spaces.

“As it relates to things when officers arrive and there’s something in the apartment that shouldn’t be, we’re governed just like any other police department with Fourth Amendment issues,” Jagoe said. “So, just as we’ve done in the past with city police, I can’t think of too many times where rooms have been sealed for search warrants and things of that nature.”

The process is constant as Wilkes continues to transition to a fully-sworn police department. While many steps have already been taken, the process is still well underway.