Season 5 - Episode 533
Baylor’s Department of Public Safety consists of five divisions aligned to protect Baylor students, faculty, staff and guests. Mark Childers is a 26-year federal law enforcement veteran, including 18 years in the U.S Secret Service, who serves as Baylor’s associate vice president for public safety. In this Baylor Connections, he shares how Baylor police and DPS personnel build relationships with students, utilize technology and create new resources to protect students and promote a safe campus community.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today, we are talking student and campus safety with Mark Childers. Mark Childers serves as Associate Vice-President for Public Safety at Baylor. In that role, he oversees the Baylor Department of Public Safety, which includes divisions that work in tandem to establish and implement a comprehensive security platform for Baylor students, faculty, and guests. A 26-year federal law enforcement veteran, retired after 18 years in the U.S. Secret Service and prior to that eight years as a deputy U.S. Marshall. He served there prior to coming to Baylor. Mark Childers is the parent of college students himself. And in the days ahead, members of the Baylor Police Department and other DPS staff will connect with students through a variety of events and opportunities to Sic 'em for Safety, to highlight resources and strategies for students. A lot going on. And Mark, it's great to have you on the program today. Thanks so much for joining us.
Mark Childers:Hey, thank you, Derek. It's great to be here.
Derek Smith:It's always great to talk to you and catch up and find out what's going on on campus. And so the question I was thinking this time around, we talked about the fact you're the parent of college age students now, a recent graduate and one in college. So you've served as Deputy US Marshall. You've served in the US Secret Service. And you're also a parent who wants to protect your child, prepare the path for them a little bit. Are there any parallels that you've ever felt in those roles?
Mark Childers:No. Listen, that's a great question, Derek, and yes. The answer is yes. Certainly when you're in the secret service at the White House protecting the President of the United States, that's certainly an important mission, but at the same time, when you're a parent, those children are your presidents. So that same passion, obviously, and commitment to protecting them and caring for them. Yeah, absolutely. There's a carryover between the two.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. So you bring that to this job with Baylor students as well. You've got, what, about 20,000 or so?
Mark Childers:Yeah. Eight years ago when I took this position, retired from the Secret Service, that was a comment that I made in an article. And I said, "We went from protecting one president of the United States to protecting 18,000 students that are now, that's my president." So we're passionate, committed to doing that.
Derek Smith:Yeah. Well, you mentioned coming here eight years ago. What brought you to Baylor in this role?
Mark Childers:Well, I was at a point I'd actually been promoted to go to The Hague, Netherlands, to run the US Secret Service office there at the embassy. And out of the blue, a friend of mine, a Baylor alumni, approached me and said, "Hey, they're creating a new position at Baylor. Would you be interested?" And I'm like, "Ah, I don't know. I'm good. We're moving." My kids were enrolled in the American school. And I said, "Okay, I will talk." And at the time it was Brian Nicholson and Reagan Ramsower. And so I interviewed for the job and they offered it, and I took it. And I took it because of the challenge of standing up a new division, which Baylor never had a Department of Public Safety previously. So that was the challenge, and that's what we've been building for the last eight years.
Derek Smith:Well, let me ask you that, because you mentioned Baylor Department of Public Safety. People can picture the Baylor police and know that's a part of it, but could you take us inside that and give us a picture of who all is a part of that?
Mark Childers:Yeah, again, originally all the safety, security and law enforcement groups were under different divisions across campus with different leadership. The goal was to stand up a new division, the Department of Public Safety, and bring all those groups under one centralized command with one vision, strategic vision. And that was the Baylor police department, emergency management and fire safety, technical security, global safety and security, and then parking and transportation. So all those branches came up underneath the Department of Public Safety, the new department.
Derek Smith:We'll talk a lot about campus, but worth mentioning, as you talked about that, is even thinking about beyond campus borders as well. It seems like wherever Baylor students go overseas, you're looking for ways to keep them safe.
Mark Childers:And certainly, we provide a comprehensive, layered security platform here at Baylor, and that's the goal. Listen, we can't stop bad things from happening on this campus, but really you're defined on how you respond. That's really the true sign of a professional is how effectively and quickly you can respond to a crisis situation and neutralize it. But yeah, we're preparing these kids, not only at Baylor protecting them and educating them how to protect themselves, but it's when their studying abroad or on a missions trip, or maybe they're in New York at Thanksgiving, just a heightened situational awareness.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Mark Childers, Associate Vice-President for Public Safety. And you mentioned the divisions within. How do the different divisions work together with that common division in tandem?
Mark Childers:Well, obviously the goal is to integrate all and leverage all those great resources and assets into one combined focused strategy. Case in point, I've got the police department. We have the third largest police department in the county behind Waco PD and the Sheriff's office. Emergency management, we bring all those preparations and testing and tabletop exercises to DPS to test our capabilities to respond to a crisis situation. Technical and physical security, that's really about cameras, card readers, alarms. When I started here in 2014, we had, I think, 600 cameras on campus. Now we're almost at 1,800. So that's a significant increase, and we're constantly strategically assessing and reassessing our security footprint. Again, we want to make it better. We want to be the gold standard of higher education law enforcement safety and security. Same thing with global safety and security. We're conducting training for faculty, students, and staff that are going on study abroad trips, on missions trips. We're monitoring them when they're overseas, and then certainly in the midst of a crisis, we're working to get them back to the United States. Of course, parking and transportation is self-explanatory, but they do a fantastic job. And they're an eyes and ears, force multiplier, because they're out in the community daily, dealing with people and vehicles. And again, we really stress this unified approach to campus security.
Derek Smith:You mentioned third largest law enforcement agency in the county. How do you work with other law enforcement in the city or the county?
Mark Childers:Derek, that's a great question. We pride ourselves, and really the relationships that I had as I ran the US Secret Service office here in Waco for a number of years, relationships that I had, the individuals that I've brought in from a leadership standpoint. Chief John Kolineck, the new chief, he's a retired McLennan County Sheriff's office captain. His relationships, unbelievable in the county. All of my directors have great relationships, but we really pride ourselves. We train with these people, whether it's Waco fire, AMR, Waco PD, Sheriff's office, DPS, FBI. We're meeting with them weekly, both formally and informally. We're having lunch. Tomorrow, I've got coffee with the Joint Terrorism Task Force agents out of Austin with the FBI. We do that on a quarterly basis. My chief and assistant chief are having lunch with the commanders and assistant chiefs of Waco PD regularly. So we're really proud of that relationship. It's one of the best in the country, in my opinion.
Derek Smith:You mentioned a moment ago you want to be the gold standard. What does that vision mean to you?
Mark Childers:Yeah. Listen, gold standard to us means everybody may have a good program, security footprint, in higher education law enforcement, safety and security, but I think what separates us, really puts us to the next level is the commitment and passion that my directors and my women and men of my division have. We come to work every day strong forward leaning, ready to go. Because again, we can't stop bad things from happening, but gosh, we're going to be on point. We're going to be ready to respond. We're going to continue to train, to embrace our community, to love our community and really earn their respect every day. We've got to earn the respect of the community that we serve. Because at the end of the day, Derek, our mission is to create a safe and secure environment, so our students can come here and be the best version of who they are without fear of attack or reprisal or whatever that is.
Derek Smith:I'm asking, you spoke to the Baylor Parents Network a couple of weeks ago, talking about campus safety, particularly for incoming students and parents. I'm curious, what are some of the common questions you and your team receive from parents?
Mark Childers:We hear a lot that parents are concerned about the safety. Is Waco safe? Is Baylor safe? And the answer is yes, Baylor is safe. But Waco is a medium to large city, and in any city you've got varying degrees of crime and sometimes violent crime. But I can assure you that Chief Sheryl Victorian and Sheriff Parnell McNamara, along with all the chiefs in the county, everybody's working really, really hard to make Waco safe. Again, it's a continuing effort. It's not something that we're ever going to reach a point and say, "Oh, no more crime's going to occur," unfortunately. But everybody's unified and focused. But Baylor's a very safe campus. I tell parents to tell their children, "Hey, a couple of things. When you're out on campus, certainly moving around at night, have a partner, have a buddy. You've just got to be paying attention. You can't be walking around looking at your cell phone and not paying attention." But yeah, the other thing is, if you see something, say something. Trust that intuition. If you see something that doesn't look right or it doesn't feel right, call 911. Call the Baylor police department. So those are two really important things. But again, the campus is safe. The surrounding area, again, it's got the same challenges as any medium to large-sized city.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Mark Childers. And Mark, I remember myself as a college student, I had a lot, thinking about classes and friends and events. It's easy to put thinking about safety on a back burner. I know you and your team really work to get out there, to get that message out. What are some of the ways that DPS connects with students to get this message out?
Mark Childers:Yeah, that's a great point. Certainly on meetings, we meet with different student groups on a regular basis, whether it's the IFC, Inner Fraternity Council, or Panhellenic or different student groups across campus, staff council, faculty council, we get out in front of them. We offer active shooter training and stop-the-bleed training to any division on campus that wants it. If they want that personalized training, all they have to do is call the Baylor police department and make that request. Certainly, Sic 'em For Safety is another great example. That's occurring next Wednesday, the 14th of September. And that really showcases BU DPS holistically and our partnership with the local first responders. We're going to have Waco fire there, McLennan County Sheriff's office, Waco PD, and different toys and bomb dogs, ax throwing, mechanical bull riding, free t-shirts, Kona Ice. So again, it's for freshmen coming in. Again, we have to earn the respect of the community that we serve, and this is just another way we do that.
Derek Smith:We talk about students a lot, but it's also staff and faculty and visitors to campus. And what are some of the ways you serve them? And I know you communicate a lot with Baylor's students, but also the broader community as well.
Mark Childers:Yeah. Well, we're out quite a bit, again, in the community, whether it's church organizations or service like rotary, we're out giving speeches and talking about what we do here at Baylor. Again, we're ingrained with the local community, law enforcement community. And not too long ago, we were at Highland Baptist Church at the invitation of Pastor John Durham. He was holding a leadership council, and on stage was Sheriff McNamara, Sheryl Victorian, me and Assistant Chief Robert Lanning, talking about leadership and how we protect Baylor faculty, staff and students. But it's a constant, constant engagement with faculty and staff as well to earn their respect and their trust.
Derek Smith:You mentioned Sic 'em for Safety, a great outreach at the beginning of each year. What kind of impact have you seen that have over the years?
Mark Childers:It's good. It's grown from when I started. It used to be National Night Out, which was a police-specific kind of event held nationally, and we had limited participation. But over the years, and again, I attribute this to really my command staff, outstanding leadership and their relationships in the community, we really built it and brought in some cool things. The kids want to come out and put on a firefighter suit and carry a hose and go through the firefighter challenge or watch a mock dorm room burn, actual burn. Those are really cool things to watch, but again, the message is, "Hey, we care about you. We are protecting you on a 24-7 basis, and we're committed to the mission."
Derek Smith:Visiting with Mark Childers. And then, Mark, I want to ask you a few questions. We talk about pursuing that gold standard and a lot of data points that show how we've grown in these areas over the years. I'm going to ask you about a few of them. First off, it's an acronym that means a lot to you, but maybe not to a lot of people right off the bat. And that's IACLEA. What is that?
Mark Childers:Yeah, that was a major milestone for BU DPS. Previously, the Baylor police department was not certified or accredited. That was something that was very important to me back in 2014. We had to work towards that. We had to get them accredited, and we did so through the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement, and that is a national accreditation agency. And it was about a six-month process of reviewing all of our policies, rewriting our policies and really professionalizing the police department. And it was long overdue. And that is something that is audited every three years, so it's not a one-and-done. It's a constant forward leaning, constantly paying attention and making sure that we're doing everything that we're supposed to do.
Derek Smith:So we got the IACLEA accreditation. We've also seen you and your staff have engaged in active threat exercises over the summer. What are some things that your team took away from that?
Mark Childers:Well, I tell you, Derek, we started the planning ... Let me back up. Since I've been here, we've been very intentional about having either a tabletop or functional active shooter exercise every year. So it's been an annual thing. This year in particular, we started about a year ago in the planning process, just because of the partnerships and all of the entities involved. Unfortunately, the day that we conducted, it was a two-phase training. The first phase was the day after Uvalde shooting. And we had some people really question, "Hey, what are you doing? You need to be respectful of what happened in Uvalde." And I think I did a presser, and I said, "Look, we love them. Our hearts go out to them. But what better way to honor them to continually train and prepare for a worst-case scenario?" So, yeah, we had the first phase back in May. It was really a good exercise, active shooter. It was on campus with our local law enforcement, medical and fire partners. And then we finished up the second phase a couple of weeks ago with air evac. We actually brought helicopters into campus, touched down, loaded patients. They then lifted to Hillcrest Hospital for drop-off. So again, it's really tier one stuff. It's never been done before here at Baylor, but it's things unfortunately that we have to prepare for.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Visiting with Mark Childers. And other resources on campus, you mentioned that cameras have increased almost threefold over the years. What are some ways, whether it's technology or otherwise, that you've seen growth this year and in the past years?
Mark Childers:Yes. Great, Derek. Yeah. I brought in two really talented individuals to help me in that particular area, the director of technical and physical security. And they're very strategic guys, and they evaluate the current footprint on campus, where our areas of weakness, and we'll add cameras. We don't just come in and add cameras because, say, TCU's got 3,000. And I was actually questioned at one point, "Well, why doesn't Baylor have more cameras than TCU?" And I said, "Look, it's not about that. It's about being strategic and comprehensive." So that's been a big deal. We recently instituted all the exterior doors, we replaced those locks with electronic locks, which were previously mechanical locks. And what does that do? That allows us in a crisis situation to, with a swipe or two, we can lock down all exterior doors on campus, which is really a great thing. We're also in the process of replacing our outdoor emergency notification system, all the speaker arrays around campus. So those are a few technology things that we're doing. We've improved our body cameras for our police officers. When I got here, they were not wearing body cameras. Certainly, after a couple years, we made sure that was implemented because we feel like that was critical, again, not only to protect our officers, but to also protect the community. So it's been a really successful initiative.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Mark Childers. And Mark, what are some ways that students can keep in the back of their mind that they can get ahold of you? Whether it's something they're carrying around with them or just being able to connect.
Mark Childers:As I always tell people, look, 911 is the best. You see something, you say something. And I'm not talking about profiling. I'm talking about you see something that doesn't resonate well with you, that you know is off or wrong, make that call. Certainly, your cell phone. We have a cell phone security app called BU Guardian app, which you can download. And that's really similar to 911, but it gives you a few different features. One is an escort feature. If you're at Moody Library and you're walking back to your dorm at Collins and it's 12:00 midnight and you're by yourself, that app allows you to build in two or three people. And there's a timer. So you hit the timer go. And if you don't make it to Collins in a certain amount of time, it starts a ring down to the people that you put into your phone for notification. So those are a couple of ways.
Derek Smith:That's great. Very modern. I remember my wife said sometimes when she was a student, she would call her mom. Her mom said, "Call me late at night if you're walking late on campus." So she might call her mom late at night, so someone would know where she was. It's a very modernized version of that.
Mark Childers:It is. There's nothing new under the sun. It's just a different package, a different package.
Derek Smith:So no, that's great. So the BU Guardian app, students can go ahead and download that. Well, Mark, as we wind down, my final question for you, as you begin a new year, you mentioned coming here in 2014, what aspects of this job and really this time of year, in particular, most invigorate you and your staff?
Mark Childers:Well, again, it's our commitment to serve. It's our passion to serve. We're passionate about it. Again, we understand there's never a time when we're going to be able to say, "Wow, we have pinnacled. We have summited." It's a constant 24-7 strong forward lean. And what I mean by that is we're constantly on, switched on. We have to be because the community deserves that. And we've got to continue to earn that trust. And it's been a privilege to be able to serve the women and men within the BU DPS. It's been probably, without question, one of the most challenging things I've done in my entire law enforcement career, aside from protecting the President of the United States. But it's been an honor.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, a lot of great things happening, a great team, and we look forward to seeing even more in the years ahead. Mark, thank you so much for joining us on the program today.
Mark Childers:Derek, thank you.
Derek Smith:Thank you. Mark Childers, Associate Vice-President for Public Safety, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.