By John Hollinger
In the summer of 2012 there were ongoing incidents of a suspect going in the homes of students. He would stealthily break into the student’s house while they slept and steal valuables. He also targeted the houses of female students and would fondle them.
According to the Public Safety deputy at the time, Deputy Dominic Barone, the suspect had done this five or six times at houses around the Canisius College campus between late June and early July. This was a reoccurring issue Barone was determined to solve. He got the reports, put them together, and extensively reviewed video. Barone and Canisius officials even implemented extra street surveillance cameras on Eastwood to try and finally get the suspect.
There were similar trends in all of the incidents that Barone took note of and narrowed down his next move. It was 4:00a.m. Quiet. Barone observed Eastwood from the sixth floor of Dugan. His assistant and patrol officer were on the lookout for the suspect that night. Within minutes, a man pulled up in a vehicle and tried entering the side door at a house Eastwood and was peeping through the windows. He did the same thing to the next few houses, occasionally peeking in the windows while the campus community was asleep. But Barone was wide awake and took action as he called the patrol unit to go to the scene.
“I knew this was our guy,” said Barone.
The suspect saw the oncoming patrol officers and took off running but was unable to get away. One person who could attest to the apprehension of the suspect that night was Public Safety officer Dennis Alessi, who remembers the vividly.
“I remember that distinctly because I was the one pointing a gun at his face,” said Alessi, who was the patrol officer at the scene that night and is still an officer at Canisius today.
The suspect was sentenced and is currently serving in prison. It turned out that not only was he doing this at Canisius, but also at the University at Buffalo and Buffalo State University.
“If I had another cup of coffee that morning at 4 o’clock, we would’ve missed him. It was that close,” said Barone. “I was able to get in this guy’s head. Wasn’t a good place to be, but I got in it.”
What was satisfying to Barone was finally catching the guy and preventing any further harm. He cites this as a career case.
But just one year later, on June 28, 2013, Barone was cut from his position due to budgetary reasons. Nearly four years later, the position still remains vacant. It is unclear if this criminal would have been apprehended if Barone was not the Deputy, or if the position was vacant at the time. What is clear to Barone is the countless amount of time he put into investigations—studying the cameras and dealing with reports made on campus. As Deputy and Assistant to the Director of Public Safety, Barone was almost never out in the patrol cars going to the scene of the incident. His duties were to work on the investigations and review the cameras and video.
What is unclear is whether the same amount of time is currently being put into investigations and other duties previously performed by the Deputy now that the position is vacant. Barone coordinated and conducted approximately 4,000 criminal and civil investigations and prepared criminal and civil cases for prosecution and/or litigation.
Barone, who held the position for 15 years, believes that there needs to be a sufficient amount of time allotted for investigations, and when this is overlooked, things will be missed. Barone speculates that the College is “stealing from patrol officers” and putting them on overtime to work on certain investigations, which would add costs for overtime pay.
Director of Public Safety H. Wil Johnson would be able speak on this issue. However, Johnson has denied interview requests. The last time The Griffin interviewed Johnson was in December 2016, when he said that “having a second-in-command [Deputy] would make my job easier, but I don’t have that.”
One of those jobs would be able to assist with communication and drafting out emails, according to Johnson when he was asked about timely notifications. A number of instances were cited in regards to communication failures amongst the Director of Public Safety and administration in the fall semester of 2016, in Justin Smith’s Dec. 9 Griffin article “Administration’s semester marred by communication failures.” In his article, Smith cited numerous communication failures exhibited by administration and Johnson. The first was shown by the emails that Johnson and Canisius President and former Griffin Editor John J. Hurley sent in regard to the closing and reopening of the parking ramp in August 2016. Smith reported how it was concerning that, according to Hurley in a visit to Undergraduate Student Association senate on Sept. 6, no one told him the ramp was closing. However, the Director of Public Safety had sent out an email that it was closing.
Smith also wrote, “It’s concerning that such a large decision was kept from the President of the College. It’s equally, or perhaps more, concerning that the decision came after many commuters had already purchased their non-refundable parking passes. And, to complete the trifecta, it’s concerning that President Hurley sent the Aug. 30 email to reopen the parking ramp [“after hearing of the inconvenience caused by the closure”] as Johnson indicated in a Sept. 6 interview with The Griffin.”
On Nov. 9, 2016, Hurley issued a statement via email of a black baby doll that was hung in an elevator in Frisch Hall on the night of the presidential election. The status of the investigation did not match up between what Hurley and Johnson said in separate interviews with The Griffin. According to Smith’s article, Hurley had said the investigation was completed on Nov. 10, while Public Safety Director Johnson said that it was still ongoing on Nov. 15. Smith also said that Johnson “would find himself in the spotlight at several points throughout the year.”
Throughout the spring semester of 2017, Johnson has denied every interview requested by the Griffin. To summarize the transition from last semester to today: Officer Johnson was cited on numerous occasions of poor communication with administration in the fall semester of 2016 and now, in the spring semester of 2017, he refuses to speak with members of the Griffin.
When Barone was the Assistant Director of Public Safety, he would meet with a Griffin reporter on a weekly basis to talk about reported crimes on campus. There was an allotted section in the Griffin for these reported crimes, called the Blotter Reports. No names were published, but it kept students aware of what was going on, according to Barone. After Barone was cut, these weekly meetings stopped and the Blotter Reports no longer exists. (* find date)
Although Public Safety does not meet with a Griffin reporter on a weekly basis, Johnson does meet with the senators and Public Safety Liaisons of the Undergraduate Student Association, John Overfield, ‘17 and Christina Kolbmann, ‘18 on a weekly basis. They serve as a representatives and liaisons between the students and Public Safety. In these meetings, they discuss what is going on in regards to safety and any proposals that are made from the senate meetings. Griffin news reporter Sarah Sterzinger requested if a Griffin reporter could attend the weekly meetings that the Director of Public Safety has with Kolbmann and Overfield, but was denied.
The Assistant Director of Public Safety position has remained vacant ever since it cut due to budgetary reasons in 2013. Barone’s full-time assistant, a lieutenant on investigations, was also cut on the same day. Although it may seem that cutting these positions would save money for the school’s budget, Barone believes that this is not the case and that the College has suffered financially in addition to the drop-offs in investigations. He said, “I suspect that this dynamic has had both a tangible and intangible negative financial impact that exceeds the cost of employing an Assistant Director of Public Safety.”
Vice President of Student Affairs Terri Mangione said that the duties that Barone was doing are now being done by the Public Safety lieutenants—with the vast majority being done by Lieutenant John Hach. In addition, Mangione also said that those who are assigned to desk duty for various medical reasons, which she says occurs occasionally, have also taken part in investigations. Mangione also revealed in what regards do officers go on overtime.
“We use overtime when someone calls in sick last minute and … when we’re busy at a shift change or in the middle of an incident, we may hold someone for a few hours to finish up paperwork but it does not impact investigations,” said Mangione. She also said that lieutenants are on a set salary and would not be paid extra for working overtime if working on investigations.
Another question arises as to where the money is going. According to Smith’s Griffin article, seven Canisius employees made over $200,000 in 2013. Also, according to former Griffin News Editor, Aidan Ryan ’14, the hiring of Cathleen Davis in 2014 also is worth noting. She was hired as the Vice President of Enrollment Management and is in charge of tackling enrollment. However, Canisius has declined in undergraduate population, going from 3,084 in the fall of 2013 to 2,304 in the spring of 2017.
There may be a number of incidents affecting enrollment. Canisius did make local and national headlines after the report of a black doll hanging in the elevator of Frisch Hall.
That very week, Johnson said in an interview with the Griffin that “we have very limited resources numbers-wise. We had a lot of people here working almost twenty-fours at a time because this was that critical of an investigation.” The College also brought in an outside investigator to review the case—a former federal prosecutor. When Barone was Deputy, he reported every incident report and would mark it up for follow-up investigation. Virtually every crime that happened on campus was filed for follow-up investigation.
“That follow-up investigation could take 10 minutes, it could take 10 months, but the fact is that there was someone dedicated to taking care of it,” said Barone. “We weren’t stealing from other patrol functions.” Barone believes that the College is currently taking patrol officers away from street duties to work on investigations. When the news was relayed to Barone that he was being cut, he was required to pack up everything in his office that very day.
“There was no transition, no notice at all,” said Barone.
This became a problem as Barone was fully in charge for the implementation of a new hardware and software system upgrade that allowed Public Safety dispatchers to receive and process security and fire alarm activation’s received from any campus buildings, offices, dorm rooms, townhouses, etc. “From what I understand from sources was [that] the transition and implementation was a disaster,” said Barone.
Barone also speculates that patrol officers are now working overtime to make up for the loss of Barone and his full-time assistant, and that they are being pulled from spots on campus and doing this overtime for investigations because no one is doing it full-time. But Mangione says it is the lieutenants, and Johnson chose not to comment.
With the Deputy position still out of reach, it is still unclear if the position will ever be reinstated. With communication failures and problems that the school has had, according to Barone and reports made by the Griffin, he believes that it should be. According to Mangione, it is not in the budget for 2017-18. However, Barone still believes that it should be reviewed and reinstated. “If the students want it, they should be able to get it. I mean, come on, there’s got to be a way,” said Barone.