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Get to Know ... Pat Cunningham

Get to Know ... Pat Cunningham

Pat Cunningham, Colorado College’s new director of campus safety, decided to sign on with CC because “I like the way CC does business,” he said.

He comes to the college from Vanderbilt University, where he was the campus police department’s field supervisor. “I would have been happy to stay at Vanderbilt and retire there, but Colorado Springs always had a certain lure for me,” he said. Cunningham first visited Colorado Springs as a teenager and the place always remained with him. Upon hearing that the director of campus safety position was open at CC, Cunningham looked into the opportunity.

“When I came out and met with Mike (Edmonds) and the rest of the student life staff, they talked a lot about vision. I was impressed,” Cunningham said. He likes the fact that at CC the director of campus safety reports to the dean of student life. “It’s viewed as all part of the students’ experience. I like that concept,” he said. “The student experience is the core of the philosophy. Campus safety is not viewed as policing; it’s viewed as support.”

Cunningham points out that there is no other presence on campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Whether it’s a student needing an escort from one location to another, someone who is sick or injured and needs to get to the health center or hospital, or someone who needs directions or information, Cunningham says campus safety officers are there. “Our officers are very proactive. Rather than waiting for someone to call and say they need assistance, they are out looking for opportunities to be of service. ‘Can I help you?’ is a very powerful tool for both security and customer service,” Cunningham said.

Safety officers also see students when they’re not at their best – for instance, intoxicated or acting out. Rather than viewing those as adversarial situations or negative encounters, Cunningham sees them as an opportunity to help, an attitude that reflects his underlying philosophy that his job is not about enforcement, but rather, security and support.

More Pat Cunningham facts:

  • An Irishman through and through, Cunningham is actually the fifth in the line of Patrick Cunninghams; his oldest son, Patrick, is the sixth.
  • However, it is his second son, Evan, who was born on St. Patrick’s Day.
  • He currently has three children in college (all at the same time!) although his oldest will graduate in December and his younger son will graduate in May. Daughter Rachel is a sophomore at Austin Peay State University.
  • Look for Cunningham on his bicycle; he enjoys spending his free time cycling.
  • Cunningham claims it’s fortunate that his career has been spent in the Army and in law enforcement, where uniforms are the norm. “I have absolutely no sense of style,” he says. “Uniforms are a good thing for me.”
  • Most importantly, Cunningham is a HUGE Halloween fan. He has thousands of dollars-worth of Halloween decorations and paraphernalia in Nashville. “We would turn the entire downstairs, garage, and yard into a haunt,” he says. “A dozen or so neighbors would come and dress up as monsters and ghouls, and 300 to 400 people would come through the home haunt every year. Jason (Newton) suggested we look at working with student groups next year on a CC haunted house, with the proceeds going to charity, which I think could be great fun,” Cunningham said.

 

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“There are some situations where we say ‘let’s give you some choices to get back on track. Let’s make this a learning experience,’ which is the way I like to do things,” he said. Cunningham cites the “ticket and talk program” by Campus Resource Officer Jason Newton, in which Newton follows up with intoxicated students the next day, when they can be engaged in productive conversation, rather than trying to talk with them when they are impaired. “I always appreciated the people who helped me out and gave me guidance when I was a student and made less-than-great choices on occasion. Now I have the chance to incorporate that philosophy at a departmental level,” Cunningham said. 

Cunningham, who has more than 30 years combined service at Vanderbilt and Georgetown universities and is the father of three college-age children, knows a fair amount about college students. “College is a great experience, but it can also present unique challenges. I try to treat the students here as I want my kids to be treated where they go to school. That means approaching situations with a helpful attitude. One thing I brought with me from my other work experiences is the idea that we want to go beyond the Golden Rule and treat others better than they expect to be treated – we want to be deliberate in how we approach others and make every encounter a positive encounter.” Another goal, he said, is the concept of “great to greater.” “We’ve got a great campus safety department. Now we want to look for ways to make it even greater.”

Colorado College differs in many ways from Vanderbilt, where he worked from 1981 until starting at CC in July. Nashville is a city of half a million people, and the 12,000-student university is located two miles from downtown and adjacent to three major thoroughfares. When Cunningham was there, Vanderbilt had 114 police officers who were actively involved in patrolling areas beyond the periphery of the campus, as opposed to the 10 safety officers at CC, who rely on the Colorado Springs Police Department for off-campus incidents. “We have a different focus here,” Cunningham says. “The partnership between CC and the CSPD is a great model.

“It’s a great job,” he says. “I get paid to help people.”

 More Pat Cunningham facts:

  • An Irishman through and through, Cunningham is actually the fifth in the line of Patrick Cunninghams; his oldest son, Patrick, is the sixth.
  • However, it is his second son, Evan, who was born on St. Patrick’s Day.
  • He currently has three children in college (all at the same time!) although his oldest will graduate in December and his younger son will graduate in May. Daughter Rachel is a sophomore at Austin Peay State University.
  • Look for Cunningham on his bicycle; he enjoys spending his free time cycling.
  • Cunningham claims it’s fortunate that his career has been spent in the Army and in law enforcement, where uniforms are the norm. “I have absolutely no sense of style,” he says. “Uniforms are a good thing for me.”
  • Most importantly, Cunningham is a HUGE Halloween fan. He has thousands of dollars-worth of Halloween decorations and paraphernalia in Nashville. “We would turn the entire downstairs, garage, and yard into a haunt,” he says. “A dozen or so neighbors would come and dress up as monsters and ghouls, and 300 to 400 people would come through the home haunt every year. Jason (Newton) suggested we look at working with student groups next year on a CC haunted house, with the proceeds going to charity, which I think could be great fun,” Cunningham said.