McHenry County College police offer check against crime

Officers give college responsive, cost-effective security

When it comes to campus safety, less is more at McHenry County College.

Since transitioning from a campus safety department to a full-fledged police department in the fall of 2010, the college has simultaneously reduced costs while increasing responsiveness and services from its police operations.

“I think we’ve been a big service to the college community,” said Scott Sosnowski, director of police operations. “We can spend more time on things since we’re here all the time. The Crystal Lake police deal with a community of [40,000] people and had to respond to us. That’s a lot to handle.”

The 24/7 operation has been a money saver compared to the large 22-person security operation the college previously used.

In the last year of the security operation in 2009-10, the college spent $598,909. That number fell to $578,409 in the first year of a full police department as the college reduced the staff from 22 security officers to 10 sworn and nonsworn police members.

The budget has continued to decline with additional streamlining as the department has cost the college $512,565 this fiscal year with only two weeks left.

Sosnowski said the safety has increased as sworn officers, unlike the previous security force, can carry guns should a violent emergency ever happen. And because two officers are on the clock at nearly all times, response time should always be within 90 seconds.

“The biggest reason for the transition is now we have armed police officers on campus in the event of a school shooting. We don’t have to wait for Crystal Lake to respond,” Sosnowski said. “We’re here all the time. We know the buildings and how to get exactly where we need to as fast as possible.”

Crime has been held in check at the college with only 19 recorded crimes in 2012. The department reported one drug incident, nine burglaries and nine thefts – down from double-digit thefts in the previous two years.

“It’s become much more common to see community colleges with their own police departments because of the rise of violence on campuses,” Sosnowski said. “The biggest thing is to keep the campus safe and we’re always looking at ways to improve that and be more efficient.”

But officer Marcus Pittl said police work on a college campus is much more than preventing crime. He said officers build relationships with students and staff and often help jump-start cars, escort students to their cars at night, return and recover lost items such as textbooks and laptops and assist in any way they can.

One of the most important programs has been the behavioral intervention team that allows police, counselors and other staff members to work together to help students who are identified by other students or staff as possible dangers to themselves or others.

“We can be more proactive in what we do,” Pittl said. “I think it is great to have all these other resources like counseling right here on campus.”

Sosnowski said the department is always looking to improve while still limiting costs. The department just launched a program called Tip Now that will allow students to anonymously contact a third party that passes along the information to the police department.

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