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Scenes From a Public University Now Occupied by a Private Security Company

"It feels like admin really cares more about keeping some sort of appearance of order up, rather than actually caring about listening to what their students have to say."

(Hell Gate)

Wednesday was the last day of finals at City College, and despite the campus largely being devoid of students, dozens of private security officers could be found there, looking bored. They were security officers from Strategic Security Corp—a private security company to which CUNY has given a $600,000 per week contract to keep 100 guards on its campus at all times. Stationed in droves at the now fenced-off entrances to campus, the private security guards, many wearing what appeared to be brand-new and often mismatching uniforms, reclined on folding chairs, looked at their phones, or vaped. 

Occasionally, they stopped students rushing off to finals to ask for their IDs. This Hell Gate reporter witnessed one student pleading with three Strategic Security Corp guards to let her enter campus to take her last final. The security officers told her that her ID had expired, as a look of desperation swept across her face. Eventually, a CUNY police officer let her through—and she raced down through the quad, which was empty except for roughly 10 private security guards who were milling about in the shade looking bored.

(Hell Gate)

Enrique Mejia, a researcher at the CUNY Graduate Center's Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC), which is located on the CCNY campus, told Hell Gate that on three separate instances, Strategic Security Corp guards have stopped him, asked for his ID, and then initially refused him entry to campus. (Mejia's ID technically is issued through the research center, and not City College.) Each time, he was forced to wait up to 15 minutes for the guards to decide what to do; usually, he said, another fellow guard who seemed to understand that the ASRC was on the CCNY campus would eventually pass him through. "Occasionally, they'll make up a rule saying, 'Oh, you got to show your CUNYfirst login to get onto campus," he said. "Essentially, the rules are just very inconsistent. It's definitely annoying. It's definitely an inconvenience. And obviously, they're kind of jerks about it."

Mejia told Hell Gate that due to the increased security measures, several events and conferences have either been canceled or postponed, and that his research center's Pride event next month may have to be canceled as well.

"It feels like admin really cares more about keeping some sort of appearance of order up," he said, "rather than actually caring about listening to what their students have to say."

The security guards appeared on campus last week, shortly after CUNY's Board of Trustees invoked emergency procurement protocols to approve an emergency contract with the Long Island-based company, just over a week after the NYPD raided the campus on April 30. CUNY's own public safety officers, who normally provide security for City College, still remain remain. When asked what the role of CUNY's officers was now that the private contractors were manning every gate on campus, a public safety officer told Hell Gate that they had "nothing to do."  

The campus, which, before the student-led Gaza solidarity occupation and its subsequent dispersal by the NYPD, was open to the public, is now ringed by fencing along its perimeter, with signs advising that entry is "with CCNY ID or written permission only (including public events)." Even at a loading dock on the backside of campus, a Strategic Security Corp guard stood watch as a delivery was made, as if some threat lurked nearby on this bucolic spring Wednesday. 

City College has also asked all faculty and staff members to work from home next week during the college's commencement ceremony. 

One person who can't work from home is Ricardo Toledo-Crow, who runs a research lab on campus. He's been shocked at how quickly Strategic Security Corp has turned the campus into what he said feels like a police state. 

"I don't think this is warranted at all, to be honest," said Toledo-Crow. He told Hell Gate that he had observed nothing violent or unsafe about the student-led encampment that had been raided by the NYPD. Other CUNY staff members told Hell Gate that they've received no information from campus leadership about how long Strategic Security Corp will be on campus, what role they are serving, and who exactly the guards are receiving orders from.

And then there's what Toledo-Crow saw on Monday: a truck with gun turrets parked at the intersection of 135th Street and Convent Avenue, behind the new perimeter established by Strategic Security Corp. When Toledo-Crow asked Strategic Security Corp. workers about the truck, the workers said it belonged to an employee. After Toledo-Crow complained about the truck to campus security officers, it was moved outside of the security perimeter, but still adjacent to campus. 

(Courtesy of Ricardo Toledo-Crow)

On Wednesday, the truck was nowhere to be seen, but a Strategic Security Corp employee told Hell Gate she was familiar with the truck and knew who owned it, but was not at liberty to discuss that with Hell Gate. 

Joseph Sordi, an ex-NYPD sergeant and the CEO of Strategic Security Corp. told Hell Gate that he had "no idea" whose truck it was and that it did not belong to his company. He directed Hell Gate to CUNY for answers about who owned the truck. 

A spokesperson for CUNY told Hell Gate, "The car was a private vehicle, and it was moved voluntarily upon request."

For Toledo-Crow, the presence of the truck, which he described as "disturbing," and the appearance of private security guards has created a deeply uncomfortable situation on campus.

"I asked one of the CUNY police officers what they thought of these guys, and he said, 'They're my muscle,'" Toledo-Crow said. He added, "All this delegation, all this uncertainty about the chain of command, it's really conducive to all this arbitrary use of power, to no one having accountability."

Additional reporting by Esther Wang.

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