Four vie for University of Utah’s new chief safety officer job

(Photos courtesy of the University of Utah) Clockwise from top left, Lewis Eakins, Marlon Lynch, Gloria Graham and Peter Agnesi.

The same concerns came up each time one of the applicants walked up to the microphone to take questions: What can you do to rebuild trust on campus? How will you make students feel safe again?

The University of Utah hosted individual public forums starting Tuesday and ending Friday for the three men and one woman vying to become chief safety officer on campus. And top of mind for those who attended was how the new hire will address worries that have persisted for more than a year, since student-athlete Lauren McCluskey was murdered outside her dorm in October 2018.

One faculty member asked a candidate, “After that and the concerns that have come up since, how will you work with the police chief to fix problems with taking reports from women on domestic violence and sexual assault seriously?”

The university created the position of chief safety officer this year in response to McCluskey’s death and after an independent review found that officers had mishandled her concerns. She had told police several times that she was being harassed and extorted by Melvin S. Rowland, a man she had previously dated. But little was done to investigate before he fatally shot her and later died by suicide.

Since that review, the U. has focused on improving campus security and implementing recommended fixes. The chief security officer, a cabinet-level hire, will oversee all aspects of campus safety from laboratory accidents to reports of harassment.

He or she also will help select and be in charge of the chief of police (which the university will hire next, following the retirement of Dale Brophy). And the new chief security officer will be responsible for helping to rebuild the police department in the face of continuing criticism — including allegations of mistreatment of staff and accounts from students, particularly women, of being ignored when reporting crimes.

The university expects to fill the position before Dec. 13. Cathy Anderson, the U.'s chief financial officer, oversees the police department and she’ll make the final decision after reviewing feedback from those who attended the forums.

The candidates are:

• Lewis Eakins, chief security officer and director of public safety at Idaho State University.

• Marlon Lynch, senior vice president for campus services and safety at New York University.

• Peter Agnesi, who retired last year as the associate vice president of safety, security and emergency preparedness at Broward College in Florida.

• Gloria Graham, former associate vice president of the Division of Safety and Security at the University of Virginia.

The school received more than 80 applications, said university spokesman Chris Nelson.

For $103,000, the U. hired Massachusetts search firm Spellman Johnson to recruit candidates for both the chief safety officer and police chief openings and narrow the first pool to 16 (three of which were women). A committee of students and U. staff selected the four finalists.

Lewis Eakins

(Photo courtesy of the University of Utah) Pictured is Lewis Eakins.

Eakins has been at Idaho State University since 2015, overseeing emergency planning and police operations at four campuses in a position similar to the U.'s new chief safety officer. He has been in law enforcement for more than four decades.

He has conducted trainings, chiefly for responding to active shooters and recognizing the warning signs of domestic violence. He assists police forces — including Idaho State in 2017 — with the accreditation process. Currently, the U.’s police department is unaccredited.

During his forum Tuesday, he said police agencies have to deal with the history of mistreating women. He can remember officers trying to peer into interview rooms to see how pretty victims were and what they were wearing, he said. That’s “an improper response” and scares people away from reporting crimes, Eakins said.

“I try to help officers deal with their implicit bias, explicit bias, confirmation bias and all other biases you could think of,” he added.

At Idaho State, female students often reported feeling unsafe walking on campus at night, Eakins noted. He would assign officers to escort them, but also required those staffers to follow up and see what else a student might need, and to ask facilities management to improve unlit pathways they saw.

One woman at the U.’s forum asked how Eakins would improve coordination on campus with “safety efforts being met with skepticism in some corners" following student protests.

He said he has read recent news reports about the university’s police department and believes it needs to more transparent. He would also like to coordinate more with other offices on campus, including Title IX. “We have to build trust with our students so they will really come forward and talk to us,” he said.

Marlon Lynch

(Photo courtesy of the University of Utah) Pictured is Marlon Lynch.

Lynch has spent the past three years at New York University. His policing career has been built in campus departments, including in Chicago, Nashville, North Carolina, Texas and Michigan.

He meets weekly with NYU officers, in chats that are open for anyone to join and that focus on improvements, he said. If hired by the U., he intends to do the same, and add an advisory panel of students and staff. (That’s something student protesters at the U. have requested.)

Lynch said he has studied the McCluskey case. He proposed talking to everyone on campus more often about domestic violence, empowering housing officials to report crimes, training officers to get students temporary restraining orders when they’re being stalked or harassed, and teaching police staff to recognize warning signs of escalating relationship threats.

He said he would create a victims services unit where “someone is always on call with that, whether it’s 2 a.m. or 2 p.m."

When an audience member asked Lynch on Wednesday how he would address student mistrust, he talked about mistrusting officers himself as he grew up on the south side of Chicago and said that’s why he decided to become one. “That doesn’t deter me. I will engage them,” he said.

He also wants the U.’s force to hire more women and people of color.

Lynch has faced pushback. An officer on his squad in Chicago infiltrated a student protest at the University of Chicago in 2013 dressed in plainclothes and carrying a poster, according to a report in the Chicago Maroon. Another candidate for the U.'s new position, Gloria Graham, also was on the police leadership team when this happened.

Both Lynch and Graham, among others, were sued after firing the commanding sergeant who ordered the infiltration. That sergeant’s lawsuit described the campus department as a “good old boys’ club" and a jury later found him wrongfully terminated.

Also in Chicago, Lynch’s police force clashed with demonstrators outside a new hospital building. Four were arrested, and some complained of being racially profiled and physically abused.

Peter Agnesi

(Photo courtesy of the University of Utah) Pictured is Peter Agnesi.

Agnesi retired in February 2018. But when he heard about the U.’s new position, he said, he was intrigued. He believes the university is committed to changing after the McCluskey case — and he’d like to help direct that, he said.

“We desire to create a culture of safety,” he said. “It honestly begins with developing appropriate relationships with all members of our community."

Agnesi most recently served as the associate vice president of safety, security and emergency preparedness at Florida’s Broward College.

While there, Agnesi started a program requiring all freshmen to complete safety trainings and instituted training programs for officers focused on preventing violence against women.

If hired by the U., he noted, his focus would be on communication and listening — which he said he has previously used to improve relations between police and students. He said he wants to know what the biggest frustrations are for students, the recommended fixes and the fears for the future.

Agnesi previously worked at the University of Connecticut and was chief at the Avon Police Department, also in Connecticut.

Gloria Graham

(Photo courtesy of the University of Utah) Pictured is Gloria Graham.

Graham recently left the University of Virginia, where she was hired to oversee security — much like the U.'s new position — in the aftermath of the controversial Unite the Right rally in August 2017. (The school and its police chief had been criticized for allowing white supremacists to walk across campus with torches and for not separating counterprotesters before the violent clashes between the groups.)

She led campuswide improvements, adding more security cameras and lights, launching a mobile app for campus safety and coordinating a plan for the United the Right anniversary in 2018, according to The Cavalier Daily.

She said at her forum Friday, “I have often been a part of teams that have come in after something has happened.”

But, the newspaper also reported, she came under fire for putting the police chief on paid administrative leave and not explaining why. He later resigned, and a reason still has not been released. And then she stepped down.

Like Lynch, her tenure at the University of Chicago was marked by the controversy of the protest infiltration. And when she was at Northwestern University, several fraternities were investigated for Title IX complaints that some students say were not taken seriously. Alerts were sent out late or not sent out at all after alleged rapes and druggings, some told the student paper, The Daily Northwestern.

Graham has worked in campus police at higher education institutions for 24 years, starting as a dispatcher when she was still in college at Indiana State University. Growing up, she said to the Daily Chronicle, she witnessed domestic abuse in her home and spent time in women’s and children’s shelters. That prompted her to go into policing.

At the U., she said she can use her expertise to make sure officers are intervening earlier when students are threatened, stalked or harassed. When she worked at the University of Virginia, she noted, a multidisciplinary campus panel would respond “as soon as possible” when a student or faculty member reported an assault or relationship issue.

She advocates for a police advisory board that can investigate misconduct and provide feedback, saying, “People’s perceptions of safety and how they feel are real."