Q&A with Police Chief Timothy Faughnan
October 27, 2011Tweet
As he begins his 30th year at Binghamton University – he started as a Public Safety Officer II in October 1982 – Timothy Faughnan is the recently appointed chief of police for the New York State University Police at Binghamton. That’s quite a mouthful in terms of a title, but one that he earned as he moved up the ranks. He says he’s held pretty much every job in the department, so “it gives me a better understanding of everything we do, from routine patrol to criminal investigation – as well as the community service side, which is the bulk of our work.”
Faughnan sat down with Inside recently to talk about the role he and his department play on campus.
Question: You started out by saying that community service is the bulk of what your department does. Can you explain that?
Answer: We operate under the community policing model. The bigger piece that helps us to be effective is our community engagement and our outreach. We do the full range of law enforcement, but it gives us the opportunity to be much more engaged with the people who live here. For example, Binghamton cops lock up city hall, Vestal cops check locked doors. Here, everything is our responsibility. We’re responsible for security, law enforcement, crime prevention… It’s kind of unique when we’re compared to municipalities.
We also have the opportunity to reach out and do educational programming. We go directly to the neighborhood, in our case that is the residence halls or staff and faculty offices and departments. And the nature of students is different from a neighborhood in the local community. Most students are the same age and share the same interests and fads. They’re all involved. In a municipality you have newborns to 100-year-olds with different needs and opinions.
The other unique aspect of being on a college campus is that somebody always seems to know what has happened. We’re a very close-knit community and that gives us an opportunity to use what I like to call appropriate policing for this community. That’s what policing is all about. Every jurisdiction polices for its population. Each one has a different twist on the same job, so we like to get a feel for what is appropriate for the community.
Q: How has the department changed over the years?
A: The things we did 30 years ago are not necessarily what do today. When I first started here, we had 12 officers. We now have 28, but the campus is twice as big both physically and population-wise. Also, the campus has grown. We have the ITC, the University Downtown Center, the OCC bus garage. As our responsibilities have grown and so have we.
And things have clearly changed. As the campus has grown, so has the nature of crime. That’s true everywhere. When I first started working here, we didn’t have computers. Just the use of technology alone has changed how we do business. Information was not nearly as quickly available. Text messaging, emergency alerts didn’t exist, no cell phones. Every residential hall used to have a 4-digit line and students actually used them. We used to have cases of telephone harassment, now it’s all text messaging. Technology has dramatically changed how we do things and I think for the better. We’ve had to get much more sophisticated in our investigative efforts. It’s put us in a situation where we have to be much more savvy.
Q: What other things have changed the way police operate during your career at Binghamton?
A: When the drinking age changed, the nature of our work on weekends changed. When the drinking age was 18, there were a lot of on-campus parties and dances. When it changed to 21, a lot of that activity went off campus, so what used to be the busy time on weekends got moved back to when the students return from off campus.
Another thing that’s changed a lot is the job of law enforcement in general. It’s more dangerous than it used to be. Our officers need to respond to situations much more cautiously than 25 or 30 years ago. Back then, a fight was a fist fight. Now, you don’t know what you’re getting into until you get there. Another challenge is that we want to make sure we provide appropriate policing and not always treating everyone like a bad guy. We’re trained to respond to the most critical police matter, then turn around and deal with a student who is distraught because it’s his or her first time away from home—and everything in between.
We have a great staff right now with a great ability to do that. To me, the way we police the community is the way every police agency should police their community. The community policing model is clearly the way to go. It’s a shared, collaborative responsibility between the police department and the community. We’re very responsive to complaints or concerns about our department. Sometimes they’re justified, and sometimes we simply need to explain why we did what we did. We don’t get many complaints.
Q: What challenges do you and your department face?
A: It’s a challenge not to become an impersonal police department. We don’t want to do that and we work very hard not to.
I still like old-fashioned police work. The best information you can always get is face-to-face and by interviewing people. The challenge is to get out of your car. That’s why we still have bike and walking patrols and our educational programming in the res halls and elsewhere is probably bigger it’s than ever been and I emphasize it.
Appropriate policing is critical. Other challenges we have come with increased enrollment. Traffic is much more dense. Because of where Binghamton University is situated, almost everyone has to drive here, but our roadways haven’t changed significantly. That’s why we dropped the speed limit on campus a number of years ago and we’re always looking at ways to slow drivers down without being intrusive. For example, the digital speed signs located around campus are fantastic. They work well and are a great reminder to drivers, and I think people pay attention to them. That alone helps continually remind people to slow down. We also put flashing lights in high-volume crosswalks on campus as an additional safety measure.
It’s a challenge, but it’s a balance. We have to have traffic enforcement or it’s a free-for-all. We’re constantly trying to strike the right balance.
Q: We’re like a small city here, and it’s not just students you have to work with. How do you reach out to faculty and staff?
A: We do as much programming as can, and staff is very responsive to our outreach. Certain programs bring faculty in, but we’re aware that faculty are more focused on the academic side of things. It is another challenge but over the years, our faculty have become more and more involved with the community outside of the classroom and that is very good for everyone.
Our outreach is tailored for each group. What’s changed over the years is people’s view of our role. Right now, I think people recognize us for what we are and that we’ll be there when they need us. They trust us—we’ve earned it – and they understand that we do some things differently than off-campus agencies because we understand students and the campus environment better than an off-campus agency. That’s a good measure of success.
Q: How does your department work with such a broad range of people?
A: We have a very diverse police department—one of the most diverse in this county, and that’s important to us and something we value. We’ve made these efforts in recruiting and have some very specialized areas of interest that we capitalize on.
I’ve got at least seven police instructors who teach at the municipal police academy in all areas of law enforcement from tactical police training to community relations.
I think that we’re always at the forefront for trends in policing. There are often new ways of doing things and we’re very open to that. We are constantly putting out new information and looking for best practices.
Our campus population is so diverse that the atmosphere of the campus can change from year to year, so we don’t just think locally for anything. How do we meet the needs for everyone on campus, but think more globally? One example is that we reached out to ISSS during Arab Spring. We also sent officers to New York City to help with Hurricane Irene. We pay close attention to world events because so many come home to roost at Binghamton and that’s a bigger challenge for us than it is for a municipality.
As much as we focus on needs here at Binghamton, we also ask ourselves what are the broader needs and what do students bring with them and how can we meet those unique needs? We also do an orientation with ISSS for international students so they can better understand who we are and what we do, and we’ve had success with that. The same principal applies to many of our urban or minority students who come from places where police aren’t necessarily viewed as their friends. We gain understanding of why they react to us the way they do and try to understand as a way to better serve our community. They see that this is how we do it here.
Q: As chief, what perspective do you bring to the department?
A: My ties to Binghamton University and the Greater Binghamton area run deep. My late father, Donald, was assistant fire chief in the City of Binghamton and my late mother, Mary, was director of nursing at Binghamton University Health Services. I have brothers and sisters who are Binghamton alumni. I also have many family members who are police officers and firefighters, both locally and state-wide, some in high-ranking positions with their agencies. My three children all attend SUNY schools, including one who is a recent graduate of Binghamton University and currently a graduate student here. My wife, Lynn, also works in the School of Management, which gives me additional perspective from the point of view of a staff member.
As a parent of students, spouse of a staff member, brother of alumni and police chief, I am blessed to have an unusually unique perspective. I am able to view incidents and situations through the eyes of a parent and through the eyes of a veteran police officer at the same time. When critical situations arise, and I am called at home late at night, I am able to put myself in the position of the parent whose child is away from home and needs our help, while at the same time take command of the incident and provide the necessary police resources and techniques to resolve the situation.
My background, experience and perspective have served me well over the years, and have helped me to develop my philosophy about public service and law enforcement at Binghamton University. It is a philosophy that I carry with me every day, and share with the department. I feel that this department has become one of the premier police departments in New York state, and like the University in general, it is our people who make us succeed. I have a staff of well-trained, highly motivated police officers who serve this community with pride and professionalism.
As chief, it is my intention to provide the leadership necessary to capitalize on this valuable resource and continue to provide the Binghamton University community with the highest level of police service possible. Our mission and our goal is to make our campus a safe place to live and learn, work, visit and enjoy.