Every year, when parents drop their children off at college for the first time, there are concerns on both ends that remain unspoken. For new students, these may be things such as, will I make friends and, what will my classes be like? At the top of the list for most parents is the question: Will my child be safe?
Mike Sullivan may be about as new to the Springfield College campus as the rest of college’s incoming class, but his experience gives him the authority to answer worrying parents with a resounding yes. Sullivan accepted the position of Springfield College police chief in May after former chief Judy Jackson announced her retirement. Though Sullivan spent the majority of his policing career in Amherst, the Springfield native has always kept an eye on the college.
“I’m marveled at how much it has changed since I was young,” Sullivan said, “and just the size of the institution now from what it was even ten years ago, how much it’s grown.”
Though Springfield is much smaller than its neighbor UMass Amherst, a school that Sullivan worked closely with in his 34 years as part of the Amherst police department, it’s a welcome change of pace for Sullivan, who was used to working the 4 p.m. to midnight shift as part of Amherst’s tactical disorders team.
The opening left behind by Jackson’s retirement also allowed Sullivan to get back to his roots, something he missed while taking on additional positions at Elms College, where he worked for a year and a half as the director of campus operations and public safety.
“[The job] was a chance to get back into just the policing model of what I was doing,” Sullivan said. “Springfield had recently armed its officers here, so there was a different level required of the officers, and I thought it was something I would be able to contribute to and take everything to the next step.”
Sullivan has experience working with armed officers, saying that UMass officers were armed, and neighboring colleges Amherst and Hampshire were both going through the process.
John Mailhot, vice president of Administration and Finance, was part of the seven-person committee that chose Sullivan. He acknowledged Sullivan’s experience as something that both he and President Mary Beth Cooper noticed when Sullivan first came to interview for the position.
“Mike brings a different breadth of knowledge both from the public and the private side of law enforcement,” Mailhot said. “One of his goals really has been to take a look at how the department has operated in the past, and we’ve given him some flexibility to redefine public safety at Springfield College.”
Among Sullivan’s early achievements has been his push to include new technology such as an opportunity for students to send anonymous tips to the department of public safety, as well as the new RAVE emergency alert system. Mailhot says that Sullivan is also reviewing department policies and procedures to keep them updated as possible, as well as making his officers more recognizable as they patrol the campus. A meeting is planned for the end of September at which Sullivan will answer student questions.
Steve Roulier, director of marketing and communications, also served on the committee that chose Sullivan for the position. Roulier described how Sullivan’s duties extend beyond the arches on Alden Street and into the streets surrounding the college.
“We’re a community,” Roulier said. “We’re a neighborhood, and there are people that live right next to the campus. Being a police officer and a chief means there are needs of those people that we need to cater to as well. [Sullivan] wants his officers to be present in the community so that the neighbors know who they are and will come up and talk to them.”
According to Sullivan, the needs expressed by the Springfield community and the college itself are not as different as some may think.
“One thing I do know for certain after speaking with the neighbors is that they want the same things that everyone else’s mom and dad wants for their son or daughter,” Sullivan said. “They want them to be safe and they want them to go to school and get an advanced education, so their aspirations are no different than ours.”