Jeff Karpovich: Keeping Students Safe in a Caring Environment
At High Point University in High Point, North Carolina, the tag line is “Every student receives an extraordinary education in an inspiring environment with caring people.” The HPU Security, Transportation and Emergency Preparedness, and Safety Departments’ mission mirrors that of the university: “to provide service, promote safety, and protect assets in a caring manner,” says Jeff Karpovich, CPP, CHPA, Chief of Security and Director of Transportation at HPU. Since starting in his position seven years ago with 12 employees and one department, Karpovich has expanded that number to 120 employees and three departments.
Karpovich’s team has contributed greatly to the school’s reputation as a safe campus and kept crime to a minimum. As a result, the security program is a good marketing tool for the university. “More and more students want to attend this university because they feel one of their basic needs, safety, will be met,” Karpovich says.
Hired to help overhaul the entire security program at HPU, Karpovich had a daunting project in front of him. “How I did it is simply this: If the university wants a program they can be proud of and that they can tout and that truly makes the campus safe, it’s going to be an investment. If I didn’t have administrative support or support from the president, I could not have added as I needed to.”
Complacency is an enormous challenge in Karpovich’s environment. “Because we have such a good security department with a good reputation and so few things happen of any criminal consequence, our students, faculty and staff become complacent,” he says. “It’s endemic that when you feel like you’re in a safe environment, your brain tells you to focus on other things and you don’t focus on your personal safety because you think others will take care of it.”
Equipped with exceptional lighting, a multitude of cameras, welcome centers and what Karpovich calls C.A.R.E. points (Campus Assistance and Response to Emergency) around the campus, “we have really invested in security here,” says Karpovich. “For someone who has been in the business as long as I have, it’s rewarding to work for an employer who sees the value in a professional protection program.”
The students’ abundant energy is Karpovich’s favorite part of working in the higher education sector. He particularly appreciates that he and his staff have the power to influence and shape the lives of the young adults they encounter. Karpovich tells his staff they should accomplish three things each work day: Learn, laugh, and make a difference. “It seems to work,” he says. “Our turnover is way below industry standards, and we all enjoy coming to work.”
Support from the C-suite, led by President Dr. Nido Qubein, is continual and plentiful. “We would not have the funding that we have received in the past seven years since I took over if the C-suite did not believe in this investment,” Karpovich notes. “To go from 12 to 120 people is expensive, and that’s a recurring cost. I’m blessed that I have proven our value and we are supported in almost everything we do.”
With a secured campus and eight welcome centers, the first and last person visitors, students, and staff are likely to interact with is a security officer. “If that encounter is not ‘A+’, then we have committed a disservice to the university,” says Karpovich. “We go out of our way to make sure that experience is extraordinary.” Karpovich’s goal is for people to remember, especially in that first encounter, that the security officer looked the part, was welcoming, knowledgeable and helpful, but still professional in the vetting process.
Karpovich came up with the SAFE program as a way to help his officers remember how to interact. S is for “stand” as people approach; the A is to “assess” who is approaching, friend or foe; the F is for “face” people and look them in the eye; and the E is for “engage” with the person in some way, even if just a smile or a wave. “They have to do all of this with EVERY visitor,” Karpovich says.
The campus closes at 8:00 p.m., after which vehicles and pedestrians may only access campus with a current HPU Automated Vehicle Identification registration, their campus Passport (ID), or if they’ve been invited by a student through the school’s online visitor management system. When a person is expected, security staff knows where they’re supposed to go and has a parking permit and directions at the ready. “Especially after hours, we’re very protective,” says Karpovich. “The parents love it, and the students get used to it.”
- Annual Revenue: $166 Million
- Security Budget: $4.0 Million
- Perimeter Access Control
- Campus Traffic Control