“Work with us”: A conversation with new Public Safety chief Anthony Morgan

Nick DeMarchis and Dora Kreitzer

On Jan. 7, the University announced that a new Chief of Public Safety would soon fill the shoes of Steve Barilar, who served in the role for over a decade. Moving from his previous role at California’s Humboldt State University, 19-year police veteran Anthony Morgan couldn’t have foreseen the groundswell of conversation and protest around Public Safety in the weeks that followed that announcement.

The Bucknellian spoke with Morgan earlier this week to discuss his reaction to the protests, plans for the University, and hopes to build community. He was joined by the University’s Director of Media Relations Mike Ferlazzo.

When asked what brought him to the University, Morgan said that in his previous role, “I truly enjoyed working with students and working with students to kind of co-create safe spaces.” He saw the University position as a great opportunity to continue that. 

The University says they began searching for a new Chief of Public Safety in 2021, before former Chief Steve Barilar publicly announced his retirement.

Morgan added that, at the University, “There was a long serving police official – generally, I’ve come in after different events have kind of happened – and this was going to be a different experience for me.” Speaking of those “different events,” he was likely referencing publicized controversies at his two departments prior to Humboldt State: namely his positions as Chief of Police in Mount Rainier, Md. for two years and Covington, Va. for one.

Prior to Morgan’s tenure at Mount Rainier, a city official publicly claimed that she was fired after reporting a sexual assault by a police officer. Morgan reported in late 2019 that significant changes in the department in the time since the alleged assaults occurred between 2014 and 2016.

In Covington, Morgan left the department in early 2019, shortly after the public became aware of a video depicting the city manager feuding with a neighbor. Morgan cited family matters for his resignation, and the city manager said that “An opportunity presented itself and he has to make decisions that are in the best interest of his family.”

Morgan told us that his philosophy working through such controversies is listening.

“It’s not telling individuals right off the bat what you’re going to do,” he said, but instead “it’s listening to what they need.”

And some of the key questions to ask, Morgan said, are, “What does the community want to see from their department? What barriers exist that can be quickly taken away?”

Morgan also briefly reflected on his experience as an officer in Kalamazoo, Mich. for fifteen years. In 2010, Morgan got into a scuffle with a 21-year-old man – who had three outstanding arrest warrants – during a traffic stop. Morgan testified that bricks were thrown at his police cruiser, and that a bystander yelled “kill him,” referring to Morgan. 

Morgan explained that humbling moments like the 2010 incident helped him contextualize his role as a public servant. Re-emphasizing the importance of listening, he added, “I certainly think I started with ‘Here’s what I think the community needs for policing.’ And it was a change, to actually ‘Here, the community needs to tell me what they need.’”

“And so events like that were a transformative process for me.”

After working in local law enforcement for the first 19 years of his career, Morgan then pivoted to university policing.

During his time at Humboldt State, in an article by their student newspaper the Lumberjack, Morgan stated that his goals included “implementing 21st-century policing, pillars within the foundation of the organization, improving technology within the organization.” 

Some of his strategies for doing so included getting Mobile Data Terminals in the cars, increasing access to telemedicine and telemental health services and having training that focused equally on soft skills such as communication and de-escalation and harder skills such as firearm use. Key parts of that training were working with the Rape Crisis Center and going through Clery training, which deals with the Clery Act– a federal statute requiring universities to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information.

On top of that, Morgan also served as an ex officio member of the Campus Safety and Police Committee, an advisory committee made up of students, faculty, and staff to “discuss issues that impact the safety and quality of life of students, faculty, staff and visitors.”

Morgan stated that he has received emails from students expressing interest in a similar group here at the University. The question for Morgan is “what’s the right format? How many is too many? How do we have something that’s inclusive of everyone? … And I’m still trying to learn the environment to figure out what the best method is to kind of go about that.”

Morgan, however, does see this type of committee as one way of providing the inside-out approach to making changes to institutions. One of Morgan’s goals as a Chief of Police for college students is to build relationships with students and show that policing can be a “noble profession” – or at least give them a better understanding of what the profession is. 

“The reality of it is, if we’re not recruiting folks from college campuses, who bring with them all the diverse experiences that come with being a student, we’re going to struggle to fill our ranks and roles,” Morgan said.

Morgan himself was recruited for Kalamazoo from North Carolina Central University, where he earned a degree in Criminal Justice. Morgan noted that as a college student, he sought to make systemic change; for himself, joining the department was the best way to begin making the changes he wanted to see. 

“The reality of life, I would tell a younger version of myself, is you can make [change] from the inside out a lot more effectively than you can make it from the outside in,” Morgan said, adding that “a lot of the things that students want as far as free communication and relationship, you can join a department, and make some of those things happen at an individual level.” 

Though he left early, Morgan was in attendance for part of the student walkout on Feb. 21. The walkout was organized, in part, to protest Public Safety’s handling of a student conduct case alleged by former officer Colby Snook in a lawsuit against the University. The lawsuit alleged that the former Chief, Steve Barilar, permitted a male student to destroy evidence related to that case; the student was accused of using their cell phone to invade a female student’s privacy.

When asked his initial thoughts on the protest, Morgan began by noting that activism is extremely relevant on college campuses. He sees it as students creating an opportunity to make a statement. 

“I don’t see protests as a bad thing. I do believe survivors or others who’ve had their lived experiences need to be heard. I’m not here to invalidate anyone’s truth,” Morgan said. 

But, Morgan made it clear that in terms of making productive action out of these protests, there needs to be compromise and small group conversation. 

Student speakers at the protest argued that Morgan initially accepted but later rescinded an invitation to the second Creating Safe Publics Forum, which was publicly billed to promote “community dialogue, collective processing,” and “direct action.” Ferlazzo stated that when Morgan was informed of the event, there was a “mischaracterization” of what he was agreeing to and that it was not clear that the event was part of a “protest forum.” Morgan said that he believes that students need an opportunity to voice themselves, but that there are certain venues in which Public Safety should and should not be involved. 

When Morgan considered the protests against Public Safety from his role as their chief, he said that “if the question is ‘how did that make me feel,’ I knew we had work to do, and it confirmed it, right. It confirmed everything– It confirmed we have some work to do to build relationships.” 

Since beginning his term at the University at the beginning of the month, Morgan said that he has had many meetings with students one-on-one, some of which have primarily consisted of “I just want to tell you my truth and get it out,” according to Morgan. While he “[wants] to hear that,” Morgan says that in order to be productive, there needs to be more to the conversation, one example being bringing a list of demands and working from there. 

“I believe in meeting people in the middle, and a part of it is, I always say this: [if] I have to come part of the way, I need others to come part of the way, right. It’s never gonna work if I go 50, and the other side stays at zero, well, you don’t go anywhere. And so my hope is, at some point, we’ll move forward and be able to kind of meet in the middle.”

Morgan has plans to help build trust and open lines of communication among different University groups. Ferlazzo emphasized that these plans are preliminary, as Morgan had served just three weeks as Chief at the time of our interview.

The first thing Morgan mentioned was body cameras for officers. “In 2022, and this is my philosophy… body cameras only enhance trust and transparency and relationship building.” Morgan emphasized their importance to help clear up discrepancies between what officers and students may report.

He also mentioned the possibility of an unarmed civilian position taking up some responsibilities in the Public Safety department, similar to the aim of a student movement at Humboldt State. 

Morgan said of a civilian position, “We’re looking at, does that make sense here for some of the calls that we’re responding to, that maybe someone other than [officers] can handle, and what does that look like? So that work is started; it’s not done.”

He additionally touched on the app Guardian Score, an anonymous service for students to report the conduct of Public Safety officers after any interaction they may have, which he hopes to implement.

“It’s built on the pillars of procedural justice,” Morgan said: “How were you treated? How was the officer’s reaction? And we’re going to capture that data so we can kind of see for ourselves, ‘What are we doing well, what aren’t we doing well?’ kind of from a data perspective.”

Moving away from discussions of policy, he also focused on meeting frequently with students and hearing their concerns. One thing students repeatedly told him is that “we want to know some of the officers by name. We knew the chief, we saw the chief, but we really want to see the officers out there as well.”

Morgan emphasized, though, that he would want to structure those conversations to be student-focused. Meeting other Public Safety officers will involve  “asking the students ‘what does that look like to make you feel comfortable?’ because it’s going to differ from person to person.”

He also stated that he wants officers to enter student spaces prioritizing the comfort level of students, not officers, especially when working with historically marginalized groups. “I went to an event Monday night with the men of color, just to start to meet and interact with students there. I plan to come into other spaces,” Morgan said, “but I want to be invited, and I don’t want to just force my way in, and then a bunch of folks feel uncomfortable, like, ‘What are you guys doing here? This isn’t we talked about.’”

Later this semester, Morgan plans to hold his own public forum on Public Safety to discuss some of his plans for the University moving forward. Ferlazzo told PennLive that at the forum “all will be welcome to attend, ask questions and offer feedback.”

Morgan is the University’s first Black Chief of Public safety, as he was at Humboldt State, Mount Rainier and Covington. On how that precedent informed his work, he paused and spoke deliberately.

“I often recognize that in these moments, I am very fortunate and grateful for the opportunity, because I understand that there were folks who planted seeds a very long time ago, that they didn’t know what that tree was gonna– they had no idea of me, that I was going to step into these roles, but they did. So, I’m always mindful of that and very, very grateful,” Morgan said. 

He also reflected upon creating a police force representative not only of the goals and values of the community but also their identities. “I want to make sure that I am creating opportunities for everyone to see themselves in the department, have a place, have a role, and kind of try to create a department culture and atmosphere that is inclusive of different thoughts, different ideas, different ethnicities, different gender identities,” Morgan said. “So that level of understanding is important.”

When the Bucknellian interviewed Morgan’s predecessor on his entrance to Bucknell Public Safety, he was asked “What is some important advice you would like to give University students?” We asked Morgan the same question.

“I would say this, right now, because I know there’s a lot going on, and it can be difficult to ask for [grace] and patience when there’s a lot going on. I fully recognize that, but I’m still going to anyway. It’s just [to] ask students to work with us. And, please make time to communicate directly with us, if that makes sense,” Morgan said.

“I really want them to get to know the team that works here. I think that’s going to really break down some barriers and, I think, help both ways.”

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