Maintaining community and uniformity is the key to managing a large-scale security team, according to Maureen Rush, Vice President for Public Safety and Superintendent of Police at the University of Pennsylvania’s Division of Public Safety. Rush, one of Philadelphia’s first female police officers in the Street Patrol unit and the leader of the largest private police department in the state, retired from her role at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) on December 31, 2021 after a 45-year career in law enforcement.
Rush was drawn to law enforcement after a Department of Justice lawsuit paved the way for women to become police officers in Philadelphia. The court ordered the Pennsylvania city to hire more women officers, and Rush joined the first pilot program of 100 female and 100 male officers in 1976.
After rising through the ranks from patrol officer to sergeant and, ultimately, lieutenant, Rush joined the Penn community as Director of Victim Support and Special Services in the university’s Division of Public Safety.
“My time at Penn has been fantastic,” she says. As Vice President of Public Safety, Rush has spearheaded many changes throughout the department during her tenure.
“Over these 27 years, we’ve had to create and recreate the Division of Public Safety as we know it today,” she says. “We’ve grown it to seven departments, not just the police department. And, in doing so, we had to be mindful of what the community needed and wanted.”
Penn is home to more than 28,000 students, faculty and staff, and Rush’s team has adapted their services as security needs have shifted over the past three decades. Among the public safety initiatives protecting the community at Penn is a longstanding partnership with the Counseling and Psychological Services department. After a series of mental health crises in the student population, Rush served on a Mental Health Taskforce, which developed a 24/7 emergency helpline for students in crisis and their peers.
Rush notes how the helpline centralized all of Penn’s mental health resources, allowing students to call one number and to receive assistance. “When we’re there, we can connect them to the proper resources to make sure that our students are safe and secure,” she says. That could mean connecting students to counseling services at 3 a.m. or sending an officer to take a student to the hospital. Over the years, the helpline has become a trusted resource for the community, not only students undergoing mental health crises, but also their friends and professors. Over her career, Rush has made it a mission to adapt to the unique challenges that securing and ensuring the safety of a large, urban university and its population present. When Penn saw an uptick in alcohol-related hospitalization transports, for example, Rush coordinated with the Philadelphia Fire Department to create an alternative, university-based emergency transportation system. The Alternative Response Unit (AR1) allows the Penn Public Safety Department to collaborate more closely with the City of Philadelphia on student safety issues.
At Penn, students have also taken steps to ensure the safety of their community. The student-run Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) responds to hospitalization cases alongside the Penn Police. Involving students in public safety has helped ease concerns of some students when it came to involving city emergency services in student affairs. Before the creation of AR1, some students attempted to evade city ambulances due to the costs associated with emergency transportation. The Penn Division of Public Safety resolved this situation by emphasizing collaboration. Due to their relationship with the City of Philadelphia, Penn Public Safety and the MERT team were able to coordinate cost-free emergency transportation services for students in health crises from Wednesday night through Sunday morning each week.
“That has totally changed [student] response to being helped. And we think that [AR1] has saved many lives — and it saved many lives in the Philadelphia community, because we are not taking their resources out of service,” Rush says.
Along with the helpline, MERT team and AR1 unit, Penn maintains a myriad of other security services in concert with other university departments, and Rush has been part of many of those initiatives over the years. That strategy is paramount to maintaining a safe campus environment, according to Rush.
On Penn’s campus, for example, university police and security officers provide the first layer of defense and work with other teams to prioritize student safety. This teamwork provides a foundation for a more in-depth security strategy, she says. “You layer the security technology, the fire and emergency services, the victim support services and, together, you have one big team and no siloes.”
When it comes to public safety at Penn, Rush values the people that work every day to keep the community safe. She says, “I'm really proud of the team that we have been able to build here in the Division of Public Safety and of the professionals who have passion, integrity and are hard-working. We are constantly improving the operations of the Division of Public Safety so that we can provide the best-in-class public safety services to keep people safe and secure. That’s what my team does every day.”
A seasoned security professional, Rush credits her leadership success to traits such as adaptability. “I think [security leadership] takes high emotional intelligence. And it takes flexibility. There's no cookie cutter for any public safety leader in the country,” she says.
Although Rush has retired from the Division of Public Safety, retirement is not where her security career will end. “I’m going to retire, but I’m the anti-retirement person,” she says. “I will be coming back to Penn on January 1, 2022, as the Senior Advisor to the Senior Executive Vice President of Penn.”
In addition to her advising role at Penn, Rush will advise other university presidents and provide expert testimony through her consulting practice, Rush Group LLC. Her 45 years in law enforcement and security have positioned her to continue to provide university administrators with insight into emergency communications, crisis management and hiring practices.