YU Security: More than Meets the Eye
A common feature of modern campuses and building complexes is security. The size and scope of such security obviously varies depending on the volatility of the space they are “securing,” but some form of security has become a staple. Security is particularly important on college campuses, and, of course, YU is no exception. What’s interesting, though, is that this wasn’t always the case. Through most of the twentieth century, YU’s security force was minimal, and its development and current state is more complex than one might imagine.
Up until the early 1980s, “YU Security” bore little resemblance to its current state. Vice President of Administrative Services Jeffrey Rosengarten played a key role in the organization and development of YU’s security operation back then. “Before then, security just wasn’t much of a concern,” he explained. However, two factors, one local and one foreign, forced the administration to reevaluate security’s importance.
In terms of world affairs, the Middle East was embroiled in several conflicts. As always, Israel was a flashpoint amid flashpoints. The Gulf Wars and other diplomatic issues bred resentment for Western, and sometimes specifically Jewish, entities. Since Yeshiva University was recognized as the “Jewish University,” it was automatically viewed in conjunction with Israel, potentially putting the student population at risk. As a precaution, extra security measures were taken to ensure students’ continued safety.
At the same time, a more pressing local issue made expanding security a primary concern. Within the span of only a few weeks, there was a drive-by shooting at Furst Hall (thankfully, no one was injured), a drive-by shooting by the restaurants between 186th and 187th St. (several students were injured by shards of glass), a shooting at the Jewish Hospital on Broadway a few blocks away, and a carpool of YUHSB students was followed and shot at, injuring a student and killing a driver in another car. These events demonstrated a pressing need for full campus security.
As a consequence of the described events, YU administrators had several high-level meetings with then-Mayor Ed Koch and other New York City officials to deal with the situation, in which even the possibility of moving out of Washington Heights was suggested. However, certain security measures were agreed upon, most prominently the Amsterdam Avenue mall, which significantly reduced automobile traffic and parked cars around the YU campus. Additionally, YU took the important step of hiring a named security company, Wells Fargo (which later became Burns Security and was then acquired by Securitas), to conduct security operations on campus.
While New York City was infamous for its crime up until the 90s, New York’s crime rate experienced an extreme decline as a result of various mayoral and police initiatives. The precinct that houses YU’s Wilf Campus in particular has experienced and continues to experience a dramatic decrease in crime. Mr. Paul Murtha, Director of YU Security, said that, while this precinct may have had 100 homicides annually in the early 90s, this past year it only had one.
Chief of Security Donald Sommers was hired by Mr. Rosengarten twenty-five years ago and given responsibility for an area that includes the Beren Campus in midtown, as well the Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central) campus in Queens. Mr. Sommers has served as a liaison between YU and the NYPD, and has used his connections within the police force to ensure an effective working relationship with YU. Sommers readily acknowledges that we “benefit immensely” from the NYPD. “They watch us and we cooperate with them” explained Sommers. Mr. Sommers will be retiring at the end of this year, and we thank him for his hard work and dedication to ensure the safety and security of YU.
Positioned to take the reins from Mr. Sommers is Mr. Paul Murtha, who has been with YU for two years. Mr. Murtha came to YU with a resume full of experience, including twenty-five years in the NYPD in various departments and in various command positions, including serving as a captain in the counterterrorism department, where he would investigate organized crime—and drug crime specifically—as they related to external terrorist activities. Following his retirement from the NYPD in 2004, he worked as Chief of Security at York College and the College of Staten Island prior to coming to YU. He says that this, in addition to his experience as a security specialist naval officer, gives him a broad perspective when it comes to understanding what is necessary for a safe campus.
Included in the network of the security administration is Mr. Joseph Cook, a seasoned university administrator who reports to Vice President Rosengarten for YU’s day-to-day support service operations. In Mr. Murtha’s experience, YU’s communication and management, when it comes to security, is superior to any other network that he’s seen or been a part of.
Recently, the Wilf Campus experienced two security alerts that warranted police cordoning areas of the campus. Both situations were ultimately innocuous, but they serve as a new reminder of the need for vigilance to ensure safety. Our security leaders praise the heightened sensitivity and seriousness that Yeshiva University students have toward campus security. They attribute this to the maturity of the student body and the prevalence of the “gap year” in Israel taken by most students. Obviously, in Israel, security is of paramount importance, and any student who lives there understands first-hand the value of awareness and vigilance.
The student body’s keen understanding of the need for security is only accented by its close relationship with the security officers. YU’s small campus enables more personal relationships with its security officers. While the occasional “ID stop” may be momentarily burdensome, most students understand and are appreciative of all efforts taken to protect our campuses.
This relationship is further bolstered by the fact that the security guards on campus also serve the secondary purpose of being concierges of sorts. They are well-equipped to give directions and information, as they demonstrate on a regular basis. They also coordinate the inter-campus and local shuttles. These responsibilities, as well as deep involvement in the affairs of the university, make for a more comfortable security effort, but one that is nonetheless professional.
When it comes to the overall financial situation of YU, Mr. Rosengarten readily points out that steps are always being taken to make the security on campus more efficient and effective, including the increased utilization of technology and other such new tools. Furthermore, he stresses that, while we will continue to look for ways to reduce costs, it won’t come at the expense of the security and safety of our community.
One such improvement this year manifested itself in the form of a constant presence of a “YU Campus Security” vehicle stationed on 185th Street. Security expects to have more campus patrol vehicles in service by the end of the year. Many of these enhancements are being done with the help of government grants that the administration has already secured, as well as other outside funding that is being sought for future improvements.
On a whole, the administration is confident in the security systems in place and is always working to streamline and improve them to deliver the indispensable service that is our security.