APU Chief of Campus Safety Paul Dennis sits down for a Q & A with News Editor Jasmine Campos to discuss the new SafeAPU app, the move to add more armed security on campus and what a return to campus looks like for campus safety. The ZU TV exclusive is paired alongside a further in-depth look into the conversation.

Jasmine Campos: Can you describe a little bit about what your role is for campus safety and what an average day looks like for you on campus?

Director Paul: Well, first of all, Jasmine, I just want to say thank you. Thank you to you and to your colleagues over [at the] student news for wanting to take the time to to learn a little bit more about campus safety. 

In regards to campus safety and our number one priority, it’s really just to create the safest space that we can for our students, staff and faculty … it’s our mission to create an environment where those that come here can come here for the purpose of learning and working and  growing without having to worry about, their safety and their environment. 

Jasmine Campos: Along those lines with everything going on in the world right now and the COVID-19 pandemic, is campus safety prepared if the students return to campus in the spring? And what changes, training or protocols are in place to make it not only safe in a public sense, but safe in a health sense? 

Director Paul: You know, this year has been incredible and there’s no way to really describe it. But, I believe firmly that our God doesn’t test us with anything He doesn’t think that we can manage, and we just have to be obedient and listen to his direction and what he asked us to do. So that’s what we’re doing here in campus safety. When our students come back, God willing, in the spring, our focus is to make sure that they’re safe. Not just safe from …  the physical aspects of what we deem is traditionally being safe, but that there’s a new type of safety [that] we have to be more equally as concerned with, and that’s our health. 

So we’re focused on really understanding the county ordinances that are in place that are designed to ensure our safety and are our practices on campus in line with those. What are the university’s rules and regulations that are in support and in line with what the county regulations are? Campus safety is going to do our part to ensure those things, but it’s a collective effort. We all have to take ownership to [ensure] each other’s safety by doing whatever we can, whether that’s wearing our face masks, whether that’s employing appropriate physical distancing. We all just have to join forces as a team and contribute to each other’s safety in that regard. 


Jasmine Campos: Along with new roles and new safety and new protocols, I am told that there is a new campus safety app called Safe APU. Could you tell me a little bit about how the app came about? Whose idea was it? And what is the main goal behind it and what is it designed to do for the APU community?

Director Paul: Well, I tell you what, I am so excited about SafeAPU. This is a concept that came to me about 18 months ago from a student and it was a member of our student government association. One day this young lady came into my office and wanted to talk to me about a phone app that could contribute to the safety of our community. She had my interest right away. 

The feature of it that I love is just to picture those blue lights that you see all around campus right where you can walk to them if you have an emergency and pick up the phone. With SafeAPU, you have that blue light in your pocket or wherever you carry your purse all the time. So you’re always going to be able to be connected to campus safety. But on top of that, there are features within it, such as emergency plans. What do I do in the event of an earthquake? What do I do if there’s a bomb threat? What do I do if there’s a wildfire like there has been this summer? What is the plan? What do I do? God forbid there was a lockdown on campus. What does that mean? What is shelter in place? I mean, what are the steps I can take if there’s an active shooter? All of these protocols are now going to be at your fingertips in that app. 

One of the most exciting things about that app for me is it has a feature called Friend Walk. So you end up having that. You can’t wait here and be hungry, whatever it may be, and so you decide you want to walk, well, you’ll be able to use the Safe APU app.  [You can] send a quick message to any friend that you choose. It will send them a map of exactly where you are. And that map is an interactive map. So they will be able to track your walk and see exactly where you are. 

Another feature within there is what we call a crime mapping system. So you’ll be able to see what kind of activity is happening in our area or on our campus. Where were bikes getting stolen from? Where a car is getting broken into? The more information that we can share with one another, the better decisions that we can make to keep our campus safe.  

Jasmine Campos: As a journalist, one of the best parts of my job and the thing I love the most is transparency. And that’s just it. [SafeAPU] is helpful for everybody to understand what’s going on and keeping those lines of communication more open than ever before. Just to clarify, is the app available for download already?

Director Paul: Right now it is, yes. We had what’s called soft launch, if you would, in April. Unfortunately, you know, the larger portion of our population was already gone at home, but we still have some students that were still living on campus. So we wanted to get that tool available to them as soon as possible. … We intend to do another marketing and launching of it when our students return back to campus, because my goal is to have a 100 percent participation. Everybody should have SafeAPU on their phone.

Jasmine Campos: I know that a lot of students were both concerned and upset, and somewhat scared, by the fact that there’s going to be armed security on campus. Can you provide us with any words of context or understanding on why this move is being made and what the goal is for either increasing or adding armed security to APU’s  campus?

 Director Paul: As you know, I came to the university in this capacity in 2018 after 26, almost 27 years of law enforcement service with the city of Azusa. And one of the things I was asked to do when I came to the university was to really take a look at our practices and really focus on two areas. One was relationship building and strengthening the relationships between campus safety and all of our other stakeholders across the university. And the other one is identifying a way to enhance the overall safety of the university. 

I must share with you that having armed personnel in the university is not a brand new concept. In 2010, the university entered into an agreement with the Tucson Police Department. And we had one of their officers on our campus, commonly known as the university resource officer. So in theory, we’ve had an armed presence on our campus for 10 years. 

In about 2016, 2017, the university conducted a couple of assessments. They had some experts come in and take a look at campus safety and there were still quite a few recommendations that were made. One of the recommendations that was made was developing a campus safety department that’s more of what’s called a hybrid, meaning there are some personnel that are unarmed, and then there are some personnel that are much more highly trained, highly qualified, gone through a significant hiring vetting process and are prepared and equipped to respond to critical incidents that need immediate response until law enforcement personnel could arrive.

I think what’s really important for our community to understand is that this is a very well thought out transition plan. We are leaving no stone unturned as it relates to how we go about doing this, from the individuals that are selected for these positions to the training that they have to have coming into the position, to the training that they will receive as they are in the position. There have been voices from a variety of areas within the university. This is not just campus safety coming up with a plan that they believe is the best for the university.

Jasmine Campos: Could you give any examples of what that increased training or vetting is? And along with that, do you have any rough estimates or numbers of how many more armed officers there will be? 

Director Paul: So, initially we are going to have three armed officers on our campus. And when I say armed officers, their titles are what we’re calling “special services officers.”

The first step of the process is that they would apply just like anyone applying for a job. And after they are successful in the application process, they’re invited in for an interview. They also have to either have already gone through a California certified basic police academy, which is minimally 665 hours of training, or be eligible to go through one of those academies.  

If they do get called in for an interview, they do their first line level interview with members of my staff. If they pass that first interview, they’re called in for a second interview and exit interview with me and one of my other senior leaders. I give them what’s called a personal history sheet, which is about 27-28 pages long. After they have turned that in, they are sent for a polygraph exam with a polygrapher. If they successfully passed the polygraph, I put them into the background process. And now a private investigator that is not a member of my team, this is outsourced, conducts an in-depth background investigation on them. 

If they pass that background, they’re brought back for another interview with some different stakeholders across the university. [Then] they are sent for a psychological evaluation. And again, that is outsource with a California certified psychologist who specializes in public safety evaluations. If they navigate that, they are sent for a medical exam to ensure that they are physically sound to perform the stresses of this job. And if they pass that, then I make a recommendation to Dr. Ferguson that this individual has successfully navigated our process.  

[That’s] for both armed and unarmed security. I am looking into reevaluating our unarmed process as well. Now they have to learn our policies and procedures. We’re not a police department we are an institution of learning, and that will always be our number one objective and focused. And so when a special service officer comes on campus, we ensure they understand that. 

I want my staff to engage and be supportive of our students. So we’re going to do a lot of professional training so that we can better understand our students. Just this summer we spent some time, and thank you to Dr. Keith Hall, who partnered with us in some implicit bias training that we did this summer. And that’s just step one of what I hope to be a series of ongoing training on that topic and on the topic of cultural diversity. 

Jasmine Campos: You took one of my final questions right out of my mouth. I was going to ask you about the kind of training you guys were going to do moving forward in light of recent events happening between the tensions between the public and police departments across the nation. 

Director Paul: You know, God has put me in this position for a reason. [I] got my undergraduate degree here and then went a few blocks away to work for 27 years. And, you know, God could have taken me anywhere else to do this work. And what does he do? He brings me right back to the work. 

He brought me here for a reason and I’m committed to doing his work and doing his work the way he wants me to do it. And I think it’s by ensuring that our students are the number one priority and making sure that we are here for them, here to protect them.

Jasmine Campos: Is there anything else you would like to tell the APU community?

Director Paul:I want to thank you for the time and opportunities for creating this space for us to share. I want the community and our students to know that we’re not here to police them, we’re not a police department. We are here to make sure that you have a safe space to enjoy these four or five years of your life. I want every student that comes here to feel safe and to know that campus safety wasn’t here just looking to get them in trouble or looking for the bad things that they do. I want them to walk out of here knowing Campus Safety had their back. All I would ask is that our students just give us the opportunity to support them. We want to support you. And so please allow us to. 

APU Chief of Campus Safety Paul Dennis sits down for a Q & A with News Editor Jasmine Campos to discuss the new SafeAPU app, the move to add more armed security on campus and what a return to campus looks like for campus safety. The ZU TV exclusive is paired alongside a further in-depth look into the conversation.