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Difava Steps in After Time at Logan

By Qian Wang

John Difava reported for duty at MIT nearly two months late. The new MIT Campus Police Chief, Difava was originally scheduled to arrive in early October, but due to the events of September 11, he was asked to temporarily oversee security at Logan airport.

Difava did not think his delayed arrival will hinder his ability to get into his job here at MIT. “I don’t feel at all that I’m penalized. We take assignments based on previous experience and I have had 28 years of policing experience, so I feel completely confident,” Difava said.

The new chief also believes his experience at Logan airport has taught him numerous things that he can bring to the MIT campus. “Security is proportional to the surrounding environment, but there are basic principles that are the same, and I feel that I have learned my experience at Logan,” he said.

Force to focus on service

Difava replaces Anne P. Glavin, who was the Chief of MIT Campus Police for 13 years before being made Director of Public Safety last year. According to Isaac Colbert, the Dean for Graduate Students, MIT’s needs have been changing and the changing campus calls a different approach to policing the area.

When Glavin came into position in the late 1980s, the MIT campus had many “urban ills,” such as problems concerning drugs, violence and other crimes, Colbert said. “[Glavin’s] force responded to those needs, but MIT’s needs are changing,” Colbert said.

He said the current campus demands a more service-oriented police force, rather than a force concentrated on enforcement. “After a decade of dealing with crime, it’s not an issue we have to be overly vigilant about now,” said Colbert.

Stephen D. Immerman, Director of Enterprise Services, agreed with Colbert. He said that there are many issues that the new chief, Difava, will need to deal with when he comes into position. “The campus is growing and changing, so the new administration will have to address a number of issues. I hope there will be no part of the campus police that Difava will not look at and review,” Immerman said.

Difava said he wants to concentrate on “customer service” and to make the police force more accessible to everyone. “I want the police to focus on serving the students and faculty, [becoming] more user-friendly,” he said.

Glavin criticized by officers

There have been complaints by students against the police force under Glavin. Ebraheem I. Fontaine ’02, who was on the committee that selected the top four candidates for the new chief of police, said that he has heard criticism from some police officers about Glavin’s administrative style.

“She didn’t lead by example, he said. “She kind of led the police force like a boot camp drill sergeant.”

Fontaine said he has also heard the police complain that they were not feeling encouragement from the administration. “A lot of patrol officers don’t feel support from her. She wasn’t creating a friendly environment,” he explained.

Many officers have been overworked, according to Fontaine. “[Glavin] goes overboard with detailing cops to student events. Sometimes there’ll be three people to every cop,” Fontaine said. Immerman also said that some officers have been overworked, especially with the current construction going on. “Officers are working overtime and the strain is showing,” he said.

Chief wants to know every officer

Although Difava was once in charge of a large force as the Colonel of the Massachusetts State Police, he said that he is very good at working with smaller groups and will be effective on the MIT campus. “I have been in charge of smaller divisions before and I think I am better with the small groups because I like one-on-one contact with people,” Difava explained.

Difava wants to get to know every member of the Campus Police force on a personal level. He has arranged a series of meetings so he can become more familiar with everyone.

Immerman believes that Difava will be able to address these issues and to detail police in the most effective way possible. “He will need to look at how police are deployed and rethink how we detail police to events,” Immerman said.

Some officers also feel that they do not get enough say in how to handle certain situations, Colbert said. “Some police want to be able to use their own judgment versus following a prescription,” he said. Colbert believes that Difava will set specific guidelines for officers so they know what to do in various situations “Difava will be more clear with what his expectations for [the police officer’s] behavior are and what limits to their judgments he thinks exist,” Colbert said.

Difava agrees that a police chief can make the mistake of being too authoritative and not listen to his force. “Police chiefs often make the mistake of completely setting the tone and saying, ‘This is the way things have to be.’ However, the top down approach might not always be the best way to deal with things,” he said. He plans to listen to the suggestions of his force so he can better deal with the problems.

Students dissatisfied with Glavin

Colbert also said that some students had issues with the police force under Glavin. “Students weren’t too happy about some police interaction they had,” he said. However, he said that such problems existed because the police force under Glavin was trained to concentrate on enforcement rather than service.

It is difficult to make a police officer who is orientated towards crime focus on service, Colbert said. “If you have cops who are concentrated on getting the bad guys, you have to assume that in some of them do not have the broad range of abilities to deal appropriately with others in every situation,” he said.

Difava wants to also be available to the students. “I want to be the most visible guy on campus. I’ll go wherever I’m asked to go and I’ll even try to go to places where I’m not invited,” he joked.

Glavin’s professionalism praised

Both Colbert and Immerman said that Glavin has done an incredible job with the police force, but that there are areas in which the new administration can improve upon. “Glavin added enormous professionalism to the staff. Anyone in her kind of position for 13 years will have challenges. Not everyone is going to agree all the time and that can cause some problems. It is always good to think about new leaders so they can bring in new perspectives,” Immerman said.

According to Colbert, Glavin has made numerous contributions to the police force. “She brought greater awareness to the police force that we needed to be more systematic with our security needs. She also enhanced our relationship with outside security agencies such as the FBI,” he explained.

Colbert, Immerman and Fontaine all said Difava will be able to lead the police force in a direction that will be able to service the new MIT campus better. “The police took on a more authoritative enforcement attitude when Glavin came in. Now Difava will take the force in a different direction,” Colbert said.

Those who have met Difava have complete confidence in his abilities. “He brought remarkable changes to the state police. Everyone admires and respects him,” Immerman said.

Difava to review MIT security

Difava said he thinks that acting chief John E. Driscoll, who has been leading the campus police force and the MIT police officers, has done a great job at dealing with security issues.

A special task force was set up to deal with MIT security after September 11. A 17-page report on initial recommendations for campus security such as regulating traffic patterns and the lockdowns of certain buildings was released this yesterday. Difava attended a security meeting to review and discuss the proposals in the report.