Mark Johnson: A PR Eye on Security
A Security 500 Thought Leader Profile
St. Catherine University is the largest all-women baccalaureate university in the United States, and while it may have a “different set of 83 problems” compared to a typical university, says Mark Johnson, Vice President of Safety, Security, Facilities, it also comes with some unique opportunities.
Johnson, who joined the university located in Minnesota in 2014 after a career in healthcare security, is focused on his mission to ensure every student knows and is comfortable with the Public Safety department, so if there’s ever an issue, they know what to do.
Early on in the semester, the department hosts a weeklong scavenger hunt for students. They can download the free public safety app LiveSafe, and students can try to win prizes by fulfilling tasks like taking a picture of the Public Safety office or with a public safety officer.
“We try to do this early in the first semester, and we’ve basically gained all these students as our extra eyes and ears – they know how to report issues on their cellphones, taking a picture or a video and sending us what the issue is, anonymously or otherwise,” Johnson says. “Our engagement is twofold: engaging them to be responsible for the community they live in, and for us being out, visible and present, engaged in the various activities on campus.”
Mobile app use has blossomed over the past three years, he says, and it goes beyond providing a communication link with public safety for emergencies. The app has sexual assault resources, hospital information and even restaurant recommendations. This helps students, staff and even parents be more active on the app and familiar with it before an emergency.
He has used a “PR eye” to get the message out about Public Safety, with the department hosting BINGO nights in residence halls, participating in student activity fairs and handing out freebies with the department’s information on them.
Johnson has also taken advantage of campus traditions like “Popcorn Fridays” (when students can get a free bag of popcorn every week) to bring his dog into residence halls for public forums called “Popcorn, Puppies and Public Safety,” where students could both play with a dog and ask about safety concerns and university policies. Students also gave suggestions, which led to Johnson finding the smartphone app so students can text alerts to dispatchers instead of calling.
Overall, Johnson says he is proudest of the increased engagement with students. When he was in college, he served as a student worker within public safety, providing escorts, unlocking doors and helping full-time staff. Johnson launched a pilot work-study program for two students, and over the past three years, it has grown to a 24-position program.
“A lot of people said this couldn’t be done, especially with an all-women’s campus, but we have more applicants than we have positions for. It’s a well-respected and well-liked position, and a lot of students want to have this job. They go through all the trainings, they have tests to make sure they’re competent in their job roles, but they don’t serve in ‘harm roles’ (such as responding to fights or fires),” he says. He is hoping to expand the program by another six positions for the Spring 2018 semester.
“Internally, it’s having meetings with our community members on a quarterly basis or more about issues that are occurring on campus, and what has improved, and what they believe we need to be more concerned about or fix,” he says. “We look at the data, and for us, the data really drives. Our dispatchers record the time every call comes in, how long it takes to send an officer out, the time until the officer arrives, and the time it takes to resolve the issue. We have those four different par times to look at.” Johnson can use this information to balance staffing levels depending on the time of day, semester or the whole year.
To measure the success of his security initiatives, Johnson benchmarks against other universities in the area, as well as those of a similar size and in similar urban environments to see where St. Catherine falls in crimes per capita, as well as the severity of crime (against people vs. property, for example).
In his free time, Johnson likes to compete in triathlons, and he will be competing in a full-distance IronMan this month.
Annual Revenue: Confidential
Security Budget: Confidential
• Title IX and Other Regulations
• Security Technology
• A Secure and Open Campus Enviroment