Aerin Washington has vivid memories of going with her University Police Officer dad to work while in middle school and high school. She would volunteer to help out at the ID card shop and do other odds and ends for security around the campus. There was also the safety camp where she volunteered to be McGruff the Crime Dog. “I vividly remember those times,” she says.
She enjoyed the professionalism and the ever-changing nature of providing safety and security to a community. She also made industry connections and formed long-lasting relationship with peers and mentors in the industry during that time.
But when she really found a passion for the profession, Washington was all grown up working at University of Tennessee - Knoxville in the Crime Prevention Unit creating presentations for students on the effects of drugs and alcohol. The Sergeant overseeing the crime prevention unit was also in charge of preparing for International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) accreditation, and Washington says she was lucky enough to gain exposure to the accreditation process there as well as become a certified R.A.D. or Rape Aggression Defense instructor.
“That was when I really fell in love with campus public safety in general,” she recalls. In the years since, Washington has earned experience in a number of positions at universities large and small and even hospital security and corrections. While at Tennessee State University as crime prevention officer, she was recruited by the University of Utah to be associate director for professional standards.
But within the first few months of working at the University, Washington was tapped to take her current role as Director of Campus Security and Compliance as part of an initiative by the University of Utah to establish itself as an independent security department from the campus police, focusing on crime prevention and community service.
Before her arrival, the campus security team reported to the Campus Police Patrol Sergeant. Under the guidance of the Chief Safety Officer, campus security now works as its own operational unit under the leadership of Washington.
“It’s an opportunity to be a part of building something and making change,” she says.
In her current role, Washington is responsible for the leadership and administrative oversight of the campus security unit of approximately 20 security officers and growing, along with oversight of its contract guard services for contracted facilities around campus. She’s also the Clery compliance coordinator and accreditation manager for the University’s safety division. It’s a lot of hats, but hats that Washington has had plenty of experience preparing for throughout her career.
Washington says one of her biggest focuses for the department right now is earning trust and recognition as a valued member of the campus community through professionalism and a service-oriented mindset.
“One of the things I always think of when I talk about respect, is that it is not given, it’s earned. Part of that happens through professionalism in all things. As we strive to be more useful and emphasize that professionalism, in my opinion, that helps demonstrate how much we are needed in the community,” she says. “And, at the end of the day, it is our community we are serving, so being able to ask and have conversations with the community and figure out how we can better serve them helps show our value.”
Another critical aspect to elevating the profession and demonstrating value of security is through diversity, she says. Last year, Washington hired the campus security division’s first female sergeant and, together, they have been working on improvements such as new training for officers, working with campus partners on engagement initiatives, and expanding the division’s services to the University community.
“Diversity, not just gender and race but also thought is important,” Washington says. “When you have that diversity of thought, it creates a better product and, as a service-oriented team, that’s important.”
Washington credits those peers and mentors she has gained over her career, such as Gloria Graham, former Associate Vice President of the Division of Safety and Security at the University of Virginia and Meshia Thomas, Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety of Virginia Union University, as sounding boards to her success. As a member of IACLEA and co-chair of the “Future Leaders in Public Safety” committee, Washington aims to help a younger generation of security and safety professionals find, not only the passion that she found as a young adult in this industry, but also peers and mentors to navigate their careers, share experiences and support one another.