By Patrick Brady
Lorretta Holloway, vice president of enrollment and student development, announced John Santoro had been selected as the new chief of police in an email to the community Dec. 20.
Santoro previously worked as Framingham State’s deputy chief of police, associate director, and emergency management director from 2011-21. Additionally, he served as co-chair of the University’s Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.
Prior to working at FSU, Santoro was an emergency management director at the Methuen Police Department, a patrolman at Northeastern University, and an investigator/police officer for the Somerville Housing Authority Police Department.
According to Holloway, Santoro and the University Police Department will conduct a policy review based on the new “Racially Just Policing: A Model for Colleges and Universities,” develop a specific anti-racism policy that includes action items and review practices, and solicit increased community participation in campus safety discussions and practices.
Santoro said the department is currently reviewing its policy procedures to make sure they’re complying with the anti-racism initiatives. The department is starting a liaison program that will connect members of the department to various groups on campus, including the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.
“We have a draft version of a letter ... we’re going to be putting out to the University community – talking about our [department’s] commitment to diversity and inclusion,” he said. “It’s been written, it’s being reviewed, and it’s in draft form right now [and] we will be releasing that in the near future.”
Santoro said he hopes to make the University Police Department more open and transparent. Many members of the community have asked the department about making internal policy and procedure changes.
The department’s personnel is one of the biggest strengths they have, he said. “We have both civilian and sworn personnel.”
According to lawinsider.com, civilian personnel are provided on-the-job training and are not required to interact with suspects. On the other hand, sworn personnel are police officers who are required to enforce laws through their power.
“I still think that we have a fairly good reputation here,” Santoro said, “and we can continue to improve upon that.”
He added the department is certified with the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission. He said he wants the department to continue to “help build trust and legitimacy.
“The state and the commission also require that we’re complying with the Police Reform Act,” he added. “And that we continue to have our officers trained above and beyond the minimum requirements of the state.”
The department should continue to build trust with the community so students can come to them for their needs, he said. The same applies to all community members, faculty, staff, guests, and visitors to the campus.
Santoro said the department has been working on reviewing all of its policies and procedures.
Currently, an accreditation manager oversees and makes recommendations in compliance with the policies.
“[We’re] making any changes and adjustments as needed to make sure they re]ect any anti-racism initiatives here on campus,” he said.
Regardless of the position, Santoro said he’s always done a great job interacting with the community. He plans to continue making “forward strides” in his interactions and will make himself more visible.
“As much as possible, I’ll be meeting with groups on campus – whether it’s student groups, faculty and staff groups, or any type of group on campus,” he said.
He said he’ll make himself available for anyone who wants to meet with him to express their concerns. “We have some initiatives that we have going on, including community forums and listening sessions that will be upcoming.
He said the department started a pilot internship program with a student for the first time this month.
“[They’re] the first ever [student] that we’ve had as an intern, so we’re going to see how that goes,” he added.
He said if the pilot program is a success, the department will continue it next fall.
SGA President McKenzie Ward said she would like to see Santoro improve the connection between University Police and the student body. “In order to have a trusting relationship, students need to know who our police officers are and need to know them by name.
“I would really enjoy seeing campus police interact with the campus community in non-enforcement situations,” she added.
Ward said she’s happy the University has “strong goals and ambitions” for the department. University Police should not only enforce the law, but make the student body feel safe and help build an “engaged and connected community” as well.
She said she was glad the search committee organized open forums for each finalist because it allowed community members to ask questions and address concerns.
Black Student Union President Malik Martin, a senior fashion design and retailing major, said he hopes the campus community appreciates Santoro’s presence.
“Everyone knows that the police are viewed in a bad light,” he said, “and that’s just due to the climate of our nation at the moment.
“So, I think that having a community officer ... intentionally building the relationships with students and faculty on this campus, is something really important in the furtherance of fostering that scholar-police relationship – especially when it comes to Black scholars and scholars of color,” he added.
Martin said Corinne Hall Towers used to host a program called “Towers Talks.” During the meetings, students would talk with Officer Katelyn Kelley about different on-campus concerns.
He said, “If that program was implemented around campus, I think that would be the first step in securing and fostering that relationship.”
Alex Hebert, a junior psychology major, said she hopes Santoro can make the campus safer and “more welcoming to everyone.” Furthermore, it would be “beneficial” for police to listen to student requests.
“I feel like we need to make sure that the policies we have are consistent with what’s needed,” she said.
Derrick Bonsu, a freshman biochemistry major, said Santoro should change how the department interacts with students. For instance, a lot of students are “super nervous” to interact with police officers.
“As someone who has family members who are cops ... I don’t get intimidated by them,” he said. “Whenever they walk up to you, it doesn’t always mean that they’re going to be asking questions.”
Donovan Carr, a freshman finance major, said University Police can make a positive impact on campus by interacting “face-to-face” with students.
“I think it’ll make students feel safer if they have a personal relationship with the police,” he said.
Selena Sheehy, a senior child and family studies major, said she’s thankful the University Police Department is taking “proactive measures” in developing an anti-racism policy. It would also be helpful if Santoro makes himself more “evident” to the student body.
“If he takes that action, people will actually want to use their resources,” she said.
Noelle Meunier, a senior business management major, said she has been “pleasantly surprised” by her interactions with University Police. The only downside is they aren’t consistent in giving out parking tickets.
She said she hopes the department treats every student equally.
Holloway said people who attended the open forums were really concerned about the relationship between University Police and the campus community.
“That would be our first crack at a deeper community engagement,” she said. “We were really going to need the campus to be involved in making this shift to a much more real community-based policing.”
People who specialize in law enforcement and university policing should have a “guardian mentality,” she said. “There’s a lot of de-escalation training and civic engagement training ... that the police have to go through as part of the racially-just policing.”
She said she’s currently assigning an interim deputy chief, but due to the “Great Resignation,” it’s taking “twice as long” to find a replacement for the position. Also, University Police are currently looking for a new community resource officer.
According to NPR, the “Great Resignation” term was created after 33 million American workers quit their jobs beginning in early 2021. In doing so, the lack of workers left millions of jobs unfilled.
The search committee chose Santoro because of his long-term experience in university policing and the “positive impact” he’s had on campus, Holloway said.
Unlike other universities, Framingham State is an open-forum campus, she said. “The way you talk to the audience about the topic needs to change, depending on your listener.”
Holloway said University Police are going to need “some more training” on racial trauma. Additionally, the department hasn’t made as much progress on the policy review as they should have.
She said, “What we’re working on now is really beginning the policy review and using that model for how to measure and assess getting more community participation and campus safety discussions, as well as having the department develop its own specific anti-racism and racially-just policing policy that includes particular action items and review practices.”