department of public safety

Lentz becomes interim DPS chief, continues to seek learning opportunities

Margaret Lin | Web Developer

Jill Lentz, who is now the interim chief of the Department of Public Safety, has used years of experience to prepare for her new role. She is serving after former chief Tony Callisto was promoted to head the Division of Campus Safety and Emergency Services.

The interim Department of Public Safety chief has always seen herself as a student.

Since taking a job with Syracuse University as a residential aide in 1999, Jill Lentz has been constantly learning. In that time, she’s learned how to become a supervisor, a sergeant, a lieutenant and an associate chief.

Since former chief Tony Callisto was promoted to head the Division of Campus Safety and Emergency Services, Lentz is now learning how to be an interim chief.

For Lentz, that means applying a more student-focused community policing model to DPS, raising the department’s standards and finding a replacement chief that the university deserves by fall.

Lentz turned down the opportunity to become the permanent chief, she said, because she enjoyed her position as associate chief, overseeing the department’s training and recruitment and working with student affairs.

She is playing a key role in finding the department’s new leader, with Callisto putting her in charge of the search committee. Lentz said she wants to bring in a chief that understands SU’s culture and her community policing model, along with a passion for growth and development.

“It’s really important to me that we get another innovative person in here that’s just forward-thinking and keeps moving us along so we can grow and do things better,” she said.

Callisto said he feels the department is in good hands with Lentz searching for the new chief, but was also disappointed it wasn’t going to be her.

“She brings with her not only the experience here at DPS, but also a great experience that she had at Wegmans, which is one of the top grocery chains in the country,” he said. “The customer service focus that she brought from Wegmans to DPS, to the university, in addition to the skill sets she built here, really combine to make her a really good leader.”

Lentz’s first job, at 16, was in customer service at Wegmans in 1986. After earning her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, she joined SU’s staff, taking a position as security for residence halls in 1999. She took on the late-night hours she was already used to from working at Wegmans.

“The schedule didn’t matter to me, I just thought this seemed like a really interesting thing to do. And I loved it,” Lentz said. “When I worked for the students for community safety program, I just remembered thinking, ‘Boy this is the best job ever.’”

Lentz said she liked meeting and interacting with students and, more importantly, learning from them.

“There was just so much to learn from their perspective,” she said. “A lot of good conversations with students really stick with you.”

In six months, she became the manager of the residence security program and shortly after that she moved up to DPS’s offices as a special assistant under then-chief Marleen Hall. She continued rising through the ranks, becoming a sergeant and then a lieutenant and finally an associate chief in 2012, overseeing the department’s training, recruitment, staff development and community policing programs.

Andrea Stagnari, DPS’s grant and accreditation manager, said Lentz’s experience in her rise to the top made Lentz an effective communicator among officers, and an excellent candidate for the permanent chief.

“She knows all the roles of the department,” Stagnari said. “If you’ve got an officer coming to her for advice or information, she understands, because she’s been there. She’s done it.”

As the head of officer training and recruitment, Lentz went from student to teacher. Lentz updated the training program for DPS officers, creating a plan for development and growth. She worked with all the training supervisors on how to implement her plan, with a focus on how to engage the campus community.

“Every single employee has been touched as a result of the work she did and the creation of that model,” Callisto said.

Lentz’s DPS training direction has a key focus on community policing, he added. Even after undergoing an officer’s mandatory training, officers are constantly learning, after Lentz decided to include campus community elements in the training.

In the last year, Lentz has overseen training sessions from the Disability Cultural Center, the LGBT Resource Center, along with classes on diversity and inclusion and emotional intelligence. She said it’s all so DPS can help students better.

“That’s our community, that’s who we’re serving and it really helps to have that knowledge,” she said.

When she’s recruiting officers, Lentz said she looks for people that understand the mentality that SU is a student-based community. Officers that realize that part of their role is to educate, she said, are more likely to be hired.

Since becoming interim chief, Lentz’s main focus has been getting DPS accredited by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, she said.

To do that, Lentz has been looking at every one of DPS’s standard procedures, tightening the department’s hiring process, improving its training programs and revising the performance reviews. The assessment team will arrive in the last week of January to determine if DPS meets the organization’s standards.

“When you raise the bar for yourself, then what you’re doing for the community and the way you’re serving the community, you’re raising that bar too,” Lentz said.

Once a new chief is appointed and Lentz returns to being an associate chief, she’s planning on learning another subject — archaeology.

Lentz has taken so many archaeology classes as an unmatriculated student during her 16 years at SU that she could have earned a master’s degree if she were enrolled, she said. She finds it interesting how much history you can find just from digging.

“Since this restructuring I haven’t taken any classes, it’s just been a lot of work,” she said. “If I’m going take a class, I want a good grade.”

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