Public Safety officers reminded to wear masks, but questions remain

Students allege that officers have failed to wear masks while sharing patrol cars with others. (Photo by Andrew Hollander ’21)

A week after students sounded the alarm over maskless Public Safety officers roaming the Lafayette campus, a clear disconnect remains between the expectations for officers and for the rest of the community.

Director of Public Safety Jeff Troxell said he spoke with Chief of Police Jim Meyer about the issue of maskless officers and they again instructed their staff about the importance of wearing face coverings. Vice President for Campus Life Annette Diorio also sent a reminder to the entire campus life division about the college’s policy on face coverings last week.

“We’re trying hard to follow the policy, we should be following the policy, and if we’re not, we will,” Troxell said.

But Troxell stopped short of denouncing the actions of officers during the most serious of allegations: that students have been interviewed in the Public Safety building without masks and, in some cases, encouraged to remove the face coverings they were already wearing.

Troxell said he has not had a chance to look into the allegations of maskless students in the department building, but said he would follow up and that it is “something worth pursuing.” Diorio said it was the first time she had heard of that complaint.

“I would not encourage folks to take off a mask inside, it’s not recommended by the CDC, it’s not recommended by us,” Diorio said. “It can be harder to hear people, so you do sometimes have to ask folks to repeat themselves.”

Troxell said he would prefer that officers keep their masks on when conducting interviews, but was sympathetic to the idea that masks are sometimes an impediment to hearing people properly. That was the rationale given to a current student when they were asked to unmask while being interviewed in the Public Safety building earlier this year.

Troxell noted that the table in the conference room is greater than six feet long, and that if the interview is going to last less than 15 minutes, a maskless situation might occur “just so we’re getting accurate information [as] sometimes it is hard to hear through the masks.”

Many of the complaints never reach his desk, Troxell added, making it harder for him to understand the concerns of students and the rest of the community. He urged people to come to him directly with any issues about Public Safety officers.

“I don’t see anything wrong with asking the officer and saying ‘hey, I don’t feel comfortable, I’ll put [a mask] on or keep it on, it’s the policy,” he said.

Many students reported feeling uncomfortable addressing concerns directly through the Public Safety department, and hesitated to call out maskless behavior in the moment due to the fear of punishment or the difficulty of confronting an authority figure. Students’ fear of retaliation was highly concerning to Diorio.

“I would hope that a student would feel comfortable enough that there wouldn’t be retribution and that they could actually say no,” Diorio said. “I’m more concerned about students feeling that they couldn’t point that out, given that it’s not a difference of opinion…it’s a difference of policy.”

Troxell implored community members to reach out immediately if they encounter any issues with maskless officers.

“File the complaint right away, let me know right away so we can address it right away,” he said. “If we were in the wrong, we were in the wrong, but let me know about it. Tell the officer right there.”

About Andrew Hollander

Andrew Hollander ‘21 is the managing editor of The Lafayette. He studies psychology and Spanish.

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