Penn Interview: Penn's Vice President for Public Safety, Maureen Rush

The fall semester is now upon us, which means universities across the world begin opening their doors to new (and current) students -- and anxious parents get even more anxious as the cubs leave the den. I have a special treat for Penn students and parents, especially those from international locations who may never have visited the Penn campus: Q&A with the amazing Maureen Rush, Vice President for Public Safety and Superintendent of the Penn Police Department.

Maureen Rush.

Maureen Rush.


Maureen and her team help keep the Penn campus and all of its residents and visitors safe. I am incredibly grateful for her time and her wonderfully detailed responses. 

Ramanan: Why does Penn have its own security force? Is this standard for universities in the U.S.? Where is the line between Penn Police and the city’s law enforcement personnel?

A bird's eye view -- nearly 200 buildings on almost 300 acres in an urban setting.

A bird's eye view -- nearly 200 buildings on almost 300 acres in an urban setting.

Maureen: The Penn Police Department was created in 1974 in response to safety and security concerns in the community. While all U.S. universities have some form of public safety on their campus, most do not have their own fully sworn and accredited police department. In 1999, Penn entered into a Pilot Program with the Philadelphia Police Department formalizing the working arrangement between the departments relating specifically to investigations and arrests. This pilot became an official Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2001, also formalizing the Penn patrol Zone, which runs from the Schuylkill River (30th Street) to 43rd street (East to West) and Market Street to Baltimore Avenue (North to South). Today we have a very cooperative and fluid relationship with the Philadelphia Police.  We share technologies and even have joint patrols on the 40th street corridor.   

Ramanan: You’ve been a Penn employee for more than twenty years now — but before that, you worked for the Philadelphia Police Department for eighteen years. What do you find more and less rewarding when comparing the two roles?

Maureen: In 1976 I became one of the first 100 women to work “Street Patrol” within the Philadelphia Police Department.  It was a tumultuous start, as then Mayor Frank Rizzo, the former Police Commissioner, was adamant that he would never hire women to work the street.  However, when the Department of Justice (DOJ) explained that they would withhold federal funds for the city unless he agreed to a 2 year pilot program comparing 100 female rookies and 100 male rookies.  The pilot ran for over 3 years due to many relief petitions being filed on behalf of the women who were being discriminated against and put into dangerous situations.  I hated the first year and swore I’d quit as soon as “we won” the pilot.  Along the way I fell in love with the excitement, adrenaline rush and ability to help people in their time of need.  I climbed the ranks and was in line to be promoted to Captain when I received a call about the Director of Victim Support and Special Services position within the Division of Public Safety at Penn.  I was the Director of Victim Support for 2 years (1994-06), was appointed Chief of Police 1996-2000 and was promoted to Vice President for Public Safety in 2001.  I incorporated Superintendent of Police in my title 2 years ago when I didn’t refill the chief of police position, opting for a flatter rank structure.

University City, just to the west of Philadelphia's Center City area.

University City, just to the west of Philadelphia's Center City area.

I believe that I have much more impact on the lives of people working at Penn and the residents of University City than I would have had in the Philadelphia PD.  In my current position I was able to set the mission of the Division, hand pick a diverse and high caliber group of people to fulfill the mission and values my Team and I have set.  I also have the good fortunate of serving on many not for profit boards within the city, such as the Philadelphia Police Athletic League (PAL), The Philadelphia Police Foundation, The United Way, and The University City District – all of which have major impact on the lives of people in the Philadelphia region. 

Additionally, as the VP for Public Safety I have much more autonomy and the financial backing of the President, Provost, EVP and Trustees, to be able to institute programs and technologies that aid in decreasing crime, enhancing the emergency readiness for the university, and enhancing the quality of life of the Penn and University City Communities.

Ramanan: Give us “a day in your life” — from start to finish. I know each day is different, so feel free to give us a composite.

In the command center.

In the command center.

Maureen: I have learned over the years that there is no typical day at Penn… My day typically starts by reviewing incident reports from the night before. If there is a crisis situation that occurs overnight I may receive a phone call via our UPennAlert Conference call bridge system.  Through this technology 20 members of the Division of Public Safety will receive a call and by pressing 1 we all join the conference call and are briefed by the PennComm Emergency Communications Center about a real time emergency incident.  This could be a criminal incident, a fire, or any major emergency where I and my command staff may need to report to campus immediately. 

Additionally, now that all Universities are required by the Department of Education and the Clery Act to provide timely notifications to the community, at 3am during one of these emergency calls I must make a decision, with the input of my team, on whether to issue a UPenn Alert to the entire community. If this type of call occurs in the middle of the night, I generally will have follow up first thing in the morning regarding the incident, such as updating the Crisis Management Team (CMT) which I am a member of and is comprised of the Provost, EVP, General Counsel, President’s Chief of Staff, and the VP of Communication,

Socks, one of the famous  Penn Vet Working Dogs , with Officer DePallo.

Socks, one of the famous Penn Vet Working Dogs, with Officer DePallo.

In running a Division with 178 Penn Employees encompassing the Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Security Technology, Emergency Communications (PennComm) Center, Special Services Department, Finance and Administration Department, and over 600 contract employees, spanning 7 departments, I spend a great deal of time in meetings.  Internal DPS meetings, but just as many or more University wide meetings. In addition to addressing crime on campus, I also act as an officer of the University. My day therefore also consists of meetings with my fellow Vice Presidents and Senior University Leadership to address University-wide initiatives and priorities of the EVP, Provost and President.

For example, I recently sat on both President Gutmann’s Task Force on Student Psychological Health & Welfare, as well as the Commission on Student Safety, Alcohol & Campus Life. Some great programs have come out of these important initiatives, including the HELP Line (215-898-HELP), a 24/7 single, easy to remember phone number that acts of a point of entry for any Penn community member seeking information and assistance for themselves, a friend, student, partner, or colleague. To date, we have assisted 42 student in connecting with CAPS services and have saved lives by providing immediate intervention through the HELP Line.

I find that my position is exciting, varied and fulfilling.  I think I have the best job at Penn!!!

Ramanan: In your job, you spend a lot of time interacting with parents. What is the most difficult part of this?

Maureen: It is always hard to make contact with parents after their child has experienced some sort of traumatic event, be it a victimization, or other life-changing event… We seek to assure parents that we are here to support their children and guide them through this difficult period.

Our Special Services Department is led by Director Patricia Brennan, a former Philadelphia Homicide detective. Patty’s experience as a homicide detective has given her a great skill set to assist students and their families going through a traumatic event. Patty works closely with Sharon Smith, the Director of Student Intervention Services, Dr. Bill Alexander, Director of the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and other University resources to provide the student with the resources necessary to help them through the difficult time. I believe that Penn has the most holistic approach to supporting students of any University in the country.  We care deeply for the welfare of our students and we care for them like a family member until their parents can arrive on campus.

Ramanan: How have the student body’s attitudes towards Penn Police changed over the last 20 years?

Right outside  Penn Park !

Right outside Penn Park!

Maureen: When I first arrived in 1994 the Penn Police were not of the same caliber that our current officers and commanders are today.  They did not interact with the community in a meaningful way.  As we built the Penn Police over the next 10 years we hired seasoned officers from the Philadelphia Police Departments that were great crime fighters, but also had high emotional intelligence and a strong sense of empathy.  We also mixed our new hires with young recruits fresh out of the police academy and we would “Pennize” them.  

During the 1996 era we struggled with violent crime in our patrol zone.  Students living off campus between 40th and 43rd were exhibiting dangerous behaviors due to alcohol usage.  The Penn Police weren’t very popular when they shut down the parties that were out of control.  Over the years we have brought the off campus party scene under control.  Every year we have a few “nuisance houses” and we deal with them holistically with the Office of Student Conduct, the office of the Vice Provost for University Life, and the Liquor Control Enforcement Agents of the PA State Police

We practice community-based policing methods, which has helped build bonds with our students, faculty and staff. Our officers attend College House meetings and events, provide safe passage for our community at various busy intersections several times a day and care for students when they are often in their lowest, hardest moments. These every day meetings with students, faculty and staff help us to build relationships and place “emotional deposits” in the bank, so that when times are tough, our community can look to us, and relate to our officers as people, not simply as uniforms. In turn, I look to students to understand the issues of the day.

Maureen  receiving an award from the Police Athletic League , which serves more than 26,000 kids across Philadelphia.

Maureen receiving an award from the Police Athletic League, which serves more than 26,000 kids across Philadelphia.

Over this past year, law enforcement has been closely scrutinized in our country. I have made it a point to make myself and my officers available to our community to listen to their concerns, to continue a dialogue between the law enforcement community and those who have had negative experiences with police in their hometown or in an international country. I have met with student leaders from around the University and conducted two panel discussions on Ferguson, Missouri, as well as the positive, empowering role that police can have on young people, to build trust and respect.  We want our community to know that “we are their Police Department, we are their Division of Public Safety and we are here to serve them.”

Within the Division of Public Safety we have an expression “It’s All About Relationships”. I ask every member of the Division of Public Safety and our Security partner AlliedBarton to go out and build relationships with the community, and to make “emotional deposits in the bank” -- because we are human and will make withdraws from time to time.  It is our hope that people will recognize that our Deposit Column is much greater than our Withdraw Column. 

Ramanan: If, like me, you'd like to hear more from Maureen, please read this fantastic interview from a couple of years ago.