The Catholic University of America

 

Looking Out for Students

 
  Thomasine Johnson (far left) addresses her team of public safety officers.

 

Thomasine Johnson

Director of Public Safety

Thomasine Johnson joined the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department in 1972. She retired as a lieutenant 23 years later and came to Catholic University to take the job of director of public safety.

“When I came to campus, all I heard was that people didn’t feel safe,” she says. “I had been used to hearing that from people who were living in high-crime areas. Their fears were based on reality. On campus, I was dealing with a perception. There were just no incidents to back it up. This was new for me.”

Johnson said she had to step back and consider that students came to CUA from all 50 states, many from suburban and rural areas.

“We set out to rebrand the Department of Public Safety. The vehicles had small lettering. So we changed that to say “Police” in big bold letters. We recommended the University add more lighting and cut back foliage. We added more patrols on foot and in cars. We put public safety assistants at the front desks in residence halls at night and in the early morning hours. And we stationed patrol cars outside the Metro and further up John McCormack Road near the DuFour Center.”

Johnson says her department, which includes 52 officers and 32 civilian employees, has successfully changed the perception. “We have a safe campus and now people feel safe, too. We are all really proud of that.”

Daily job satisfaction for Johnson comes from walking around campus and seeing officers at their fixed posts and on patrol. “They are engaged with the University community.”

Johnson says the relationship of police officers with the community they serve couldn’t be more important than on a college campus. “When we connect with students we have more opportunities to help them make better choices. We’ll educate them about the devastating consequences of binge drinking, for instance, so that when faced with potentially dangerous situations, they already have strategies in place to make good choices.”

A mother of three grown sons, Johnson says helping students think about the consequences of their actions is a top priority for her and the public safety team. “When you have a chance to make a difference in a young person’s life, you are not going to miss that opportunity.”