Off The Cuff: Sean Collins
October 14, 2021
Our CCRI faculty and staff are a diverse group with many fascinating hobbies and interests that keep them busy during their free time off campus. Welcome to "Off the Cuff, where we profile a member of our CCRI family to find out what makes them tick. Hopefully, their stories inspire others and help us develop new connections and friendships with our CCRI colleagues.
With the recent release of our college’s Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Crime Statistics, we’ve decided to check in with Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety Sean Collins, a CCRI alumnus.
Collins has implemented a number of important initiatives over the past four years, among them improving the quality of Clery Act reporting, adding non-lethal weapons to the CCRI Campus Police department, introducing new emergency features across all campuses and developing a college-wide opioid crisis response. He also started the process to attain accreditation of the Campus Police from the Rhode Island Police Accreditation Commission, which our department achieved in June.
What many don’t know is Chief Collins also has an extensive military background – 28 years in the U.S. Army, to be exact – and was assigned to U.S. Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s protection detail in the aftermath of 9/11. He was also a first responder during the attack on the Pentagon. Today, in our return of “Off The Cuff,” Chief Collins shares his memories from the day that changed our nation forever in addition to the importance of community outreach for Campus Police.
Having served 28 years in the U.S. Army, what initially drew you to a career in the military?
Probably several things. Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of World War II movies and shows on TV. Also, my dad was a WWII veteran, serving in China, Burma, and India. He didn’t talk about much, but he and other dads in the neighborhood were WWII vets. I was always interested in the military.
You were working across from the Pentagon the morning of 9/11. You recently shared your experiences from that day with the Boston Globe. Can you describe what went through your mind when you felt and heard AA Flight 77 hit the Pentagon?
Even though we (Criminal Investigation Division agents at Ft. Myer) were watching what was happening in New York City, we didn’t think that there would be other targets; we didn’t process that. Like everyone else, we were just fixated on what was happening on TV. When I heard the explosion and felt our building shake, I knew immediately what it was. That’s when it began to get surreal. Not only was NYC under attack, but the country itself was under attack. When we arrived at the Pentagon, seeing it on fire was a very disturbing sight. To someone in the military, seeing our military headquarters heavily damaged was crushing, until we mobilized to fight back.
Dating back to your time with the Warwick Police Department and continuing to the present day with your role at CCRI, has improving communication and building relationships between residents and law enforcement always been a priority for you?
I admit, not initially. I think all new police officers go through a learning process. Initially, you want to go out and conquer the world of crime and you focus on making arrests. After years of that, you realize arresting folks is just part of the job. My first foray into community policing was a good experience. These folks appreciated the police and were willing to work to make their neighborhoods better places. You made arrests if you had to, but solving problems was the main goal. If we couldn’t solve it, we would find someone who would.
My second time in community policing, I was the commander of the unit and had great say in development of programs. When I left, we had more than an 80% approval rating from citizens in most categories and we had more neighborhood groups than Providence – a testament to the fine people that I worked with. It was just rewarding to make some difference in the quality of life of people. For me, it was an evolution from my focus as a rookie patrolman to police executive. If you don’t have a good relationship with your community, you won’t be as successful – not personally successful, mind you, but as a department.
One of the biggest achievements under your tenure at CCRI has been the Campus Police Department achieving full state accreditation. Is that a big step toward improving those relationships between students an on-campus officers?
Accreditation is very important for every department. It is a basis for ensuring you have the necessary policies and procedures in place to become the best department you can be. You adopt the best practices across the profession and stay up to date. Accreditation cannot improve relationships, however. That is left to individuals and each and every encounter we have with our community. We have to be focused on our mission of service each day. As in any relationship, we will have successes and failures. The important thing is to focus on our core mission. We provide the best service in the most professional manner we can. And then do more.
Your work on improving the quality of the Clery Act is another key initiative during your time at CCRI. Looking back over the past three years, do you feel the campus is as safe as it’s ever been for students, employees, and visitors?
Our number one mission is to keep everyone as safe as possible. A lot goes into that, including our relationship with our host police agencies. All of those are very good. Those relationships keep our crime awareness/crime prevention efforts up to speed. They lead to great response when needed. What really helps keep our crime rates in check is the willingness of our community to let us know what is happening. When something isn’t quite right, we need to know about it so we evaluate if something is potentially dangerous or just doesn’t look right. We have a pretty good track record, but, ultimately, without the community talking to us, and without those relationships internally and externally, we wouldn’t be where we are. It sounds corny, but if you see something, say something. Policing/security is a team effort.
Are there any new initiatives or plans for policies you can share with us at this time?
Right now, we are focused on building our teams and working through the pandemic. Last year, we were part of the Twenty for 2020 effort by the chiefs of police. That was a holistic re-evaluation and commitment to our communities. That is ongoing. We have had several retirements and we have been hiring. I think as we get our staff in place, we will roll out new ideas. We look forward to engaging with the community again. I hear that from my staff all the time. We all look forward to seeing faces and normal distances. It will happen soon. I’m an optimist.
We would love to hear your story, too! Email us at [email protected] if you’d like to be featured in a future edition of “Off the Cuff” or want to nominate a co-worker.
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