Meet Public Safety’s New Director

by CATHY GOODYEAR, Senior Writer

After a long and thorough search, Manhattan College has chosen a new Director of Public Safety. Peter DeCaro will be Manhattan College’s next Director of Public Safety, replacing Juan Cerezo, who is retiring after serving the Manhattan College community for 23 years.

“The Director of Public Safety search was a national search. We advertised the position through associations, websites, and publications specific to campus safety and higher education in general,” said Sonny Ago, assistant vice president for student life.

Ago selected a committee to choose a candidate that consisted of representatives from students, faculty, and administration. Among the committee members was Tamara Britt, general counsel; Peter McHugh, director of media relations and strategic communications; Vicki Cowan, assistant vice president for human resources; Helene Tyler, Ph.D.,associate professor of mathematics; Tiffany French, assistant dean of students and Jaycie Cooper, student government president.

“Besides his record of accomplishment as Associate Director, Peter DeCaro has had experience as a director of public safety at two other institutions. Both of these schools are Catholic, Marymount Manhattan and Mercy, with a similar close knit community to Manhattan.  Experience leading a public safety department at other colleges was a strength of his candidacy,” said Richard Satterlee, Ph.D., vice president for student life.

DeCaro was competing for this position against roughly 60 other applicants in a multi-part review process consisting of video conferences with eight semi-finalists and and three finalists with in-person interviews.

“As with all the finalists that were invited to interview on campus, Mr. DeCaro demonstrated a wealth of knowledge, deep commitment, and collaborative demeanor to succeed in the role of Director of Public Safety. Mr. Decaro also brings to the position years of director-level experience to campus safety,” said Ago.

DeCaro served as the director of security and campus safety at Mercy College from 2001 to 2008 and as the director of campus safety at Marymount Manhattan College from 2008 to 2015. He has also been Manhattan College’s associate director of public safety and risk management since January of 2016.

“I’ve been here three years now, and my daughter actually graduated in 2016 from here, so she was a senior when I got hired as the associate director. Everyone knows about Manhattan College, so when I saw the opportunity to come here, I thought it was great and I went for it and I just love being here, like a lot of folks,” said DeCaro.

DeCaro started out in 1981 with the New York Police Department, serving his community for 20 years as a patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, platoon commander, undercover officer and investigator in the narcotics division. He was stationed in lower Manhattan and retired from the police department in 2001, only 42 days before 9/11 occured.

“My objective when I was retiring was to find a position as a security director or security manager. I wanted to stay in that field and I had applied for quite a few jobs when I was getting ready to retire,” DeCaro said. “It’s a perfect fit, all of the background experience is there and I am obviously very familiar with police protocol, policy, and procedure, the criminal justice system, how things work in New York City and that kind of background information can relate from me right to our students and employees that have situations that require help from the police department or the criminal justice system.”

He continued.

“A lot of my experience in handling just about anything you could possibly imagine from a patrol perspective, supervisory perspective, investigations, emergency management, there’s a lot of experience you gain from being a New York City Cop, especially a supervisor, that you can bring into the private sector,” said DeCaro.

Like DeCaro, Juan Cerezo started his career out with the NYPD. Cerezo was with the NYPD for 26 years before being hired on January 23, 1996.

“I retired as a lieutenant working out of Bronx Narcotics, we had an office out of Co-Op City. When the job of Assistant Director of Security opened up, I applied for it and I was hired. My daughter graduated from this school in 2003 and she’s an employee with the college. One of the reasons I took the job was because I wanted my daughter to graduate with this school. As it turns out, I never anticipated I’d be here 23 years,” said Cerezo.

Cerezo had overseen many changes within the department during his time here. The Public Safety office has expanded with the college starting from 36 uniformed officers, including the six supervisors, to 50 full-time and three part-time uniform positions as well as four administors.

“One of the first things I did when I was first hired as the assistant was I started the first security manual for the department as guidelines, and of course, that book has grown with all the procedures we have put in place. With new federal laws and mandates our annual security report, which started at 12 pages, grew. After the Seton Hall fire, it was required that we report any fires that occur in resident halls, not including contained fires like microwave fires, etc. We report it to the U.S. Department of Education,” said Cerezo.

Cerezo and Public Safety have worked with Residence Life, the counseling center, the Dean’s office, and Athletics to implement changes from acts the Violence Against Women Act, Title IX and the Clery Act. He has also personally worked with outside departments like the 50th precinct and their Commanding Officers to keep students on campus safe.

“After the Virginia Tech Massacre by the Active Shooter, we implemented the emergency text messaging, known now as E2Campus, so any time there is an emergency, we send a text out,” Cerezo said. “In 2012, we also did our very first emergency mock exercise with the fire department and Con Edison. We simulated a transformer fire affecting the students in Jasper. A lot of things we learned from that is that in addition to the emergency text messaging, we need a public system, so in 2016 we added the public address system which is in the current office.”.

The supervisors in Public Safety are trained to transmit an emergency message to whoever is on campus out of the four speakers on top of Memorial Hall and two speakers on top of the Kelly Commons roof.

“We also went from a closed circuit TV systems with three to four VCR cameras to DVRs. The numbers of cameras started increasing. We also installed our first emergency blue lights. The first ones were in the Miguel pathway and by the Thomas Hall to Horan Hall path and two on the Waldo pathway leading down to Leo and RLC. We have now upgraded to NVR and have over 300 cameras in place,” said Cerezo.

Uniform officers went from only being required to have a certification from New York State Divisional License to having additional training and certifications including CPR/First Aid, AED and Fireguard training. Cerezo also assisted with the moving of the Public Safety office from DLS 105 to Jasper Hall, the installment of O’Malley Library, the parking garage, Lee Hall, and Kelly Commons, plus their changes to campus security, the removal of bars on broadway and safety near college leased housing on Riverdale and Cambridge Ave and the ability to appeal or pay a ticket online.

“I thought it would be a 10-year ride after doing close to 26 with NYPD, but I liked working out of Manhattan College. It was just a great place to work with great students here. It is always great to be able to help a student out whatever the need is. It could be something as simple as if they lose their property and we are able to return their property and they have a smile on their face and are very appreciative, that’s the most rewarding thing about this job. It’s very satisfying in the sense that you are able to help people,” Cerezo said.

He continued.

“I felt the same way when I was working in the police department. It was the same thing and I was able to carry my background over here. That’s why I loved the police department and I loved this job because you are dealing with people who appreciate what you are doing for them and it hits my heart,” said Cerezo.

Cerezo’s last day was Friday, Feb. 15, and DeCaro’s first official day as director was Monday, Feb. 18.

“Juan Cerezo, has done an excellent job and has gotten public safety up and running pretty well so my objective is to maintain that and look at a lot of things and see if there is anything that we can enhance or maybe do a little more effectively. It’s a newly appointed position but it’s also something I’ve done for 14 years at two other colleges so I am pretty sure I’ve got all the kinks worked out. A lot of college’s public safety and campus safety offices deal with a lot of the same issues and have the same responsibilities so it’s really just a lateral for me,” said DeCaro.