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Meet the new LGBTQ+ liaison and community resource officer at DPS

September 4, 2019
two police officers standing behind a table a the orientation fair, the table has a sign that reads PUBLIC SAFETYDepartment of Public Safety officers Erin Vess, left, and Laura Johnson introduce new students to DPS at the informational expo in Douglass Commons. (University of Rochester photo / Dana Perrin)

The Department of Public Safety (DPS) recently appointed Laura Johnson as the department’s first LGBTQ+ liaison, and Erin Vess as the new community resource officer (CRO).

The LGBTQ+ liaison is a new officer position in DPS dedicated to working with students across the University and building strong relationships with the LGBTQ+ community.

The CRO coordinates and develops campus-wide programming to educate the campus community in crime prevention methods, as well as empowering them to help maintain a safe environment. The CRO acts as a liaison between students and staff and the department, becoming a familiar figure on campus through multiple campus partnerships, presentations, and programs.

“The Department of Public Safety is committed to building strong relationships with our University communities,” says DPS Chief Mark Fischer. “Erin and Laura are both strongly committed to this, as well as being a resource to our community. I encourage everyone to invite them to any meeting or gathering, or simply say hello as you see them around campus.”

Below, Officer Johnson and Officer Vess give the University of Rochester community a little insight into their interests and their plans for the new academic year.

What interested you about this position in DPS?

Laura: I have always been interested in law enforcement, but never got into it at an earlier age because I was following my dream to officiate women’s ice hockey in the Olympics, which I did for the XXII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. I’ve been refereeing ice hockey for 17 years and have served as an NCAA Division I and III ref for almost seven years.

Recently when I was looking for new job opportunities, I discovered this position, got the job, and I absolutely love it. Probably stemming from my experiences as a referee, I really like rules and enforcing them, so this is a great spot for me.

Erin: I’ve worked with young adults and students previously, in the areas of advocacy, harm reduction, and counseling, as well as I have been a DPS officer in Strong Memorial Hospital since 2016. So when the position of campus resource officer became available, it seemed like it would be a great complementary experience for me.

What are some of your goals for the new academic year?

Laura Johnson, the new LGBTQ+ liaison in the Department of Public Safety. (University of Rochester photo / Sara Miller)

Laura: I really want to meet all of the staff within the LGBTQ community and have those initial conversations to understand what our campus needs from someone like me in this role. I’m going to the LGBTQ Meet and Greet later at Wilson Commons to meet everyone in the undergraduate and graduate student community and learn how I can support them. And I want to get extra training for our officers because I know some of them have questions about the proper pronouns to use when speaking with LGBTQ+ students and employees.

Another one of my goals is to create a Pride Team here within DPS so that I’m not the only LGBTQ contact person per shift. When someone truly needs help, they often want to talk to someone that they feel is a really strong ally, so that’s what the Pride Team could provide.

Erin: I just want to have relaxed interactions with students, faculty, and staff and help eliminate the uneasy feeling that because Public Safety officers are out and about on campus, we are there because we were called for something bad. By being more of a presence and resource to the University community, I’m hopeful we can really break down these barriers. I also think the Adopt-a-Hall program that I’m now coordinating where officers are assigned to specific residence halls for the year really helps bridge the gap between DPS and students.

I want to do a lot of prevention and safety programming for students and overall let them know that before we were officers we all went to college and understand a lot of the problems and burdens students deal with.

What do you like most about working at a university?

Laura: I love how diverse the University is. Just looking at the programs that we offer, and how many different people from around the world come to this school. I love to travel around the world and experience different cultures, perspectives and backgrounds, so I love how truly international this university is. I like to meet new people and I’m not afraid to talk to them, so that’s my favorite part of being on campus.

Erin Vess, the new community resource officer in the Department of Public Safety. (University of Rochester photo / Sara Miller)

Erin: I’m super excited about working on campus. As a DPS officer, I have worked mainly in the hospital, and the two working environments are very different. Being a DPS officer in the hospital is very physically demanding, so I’m happy to be in a position where I can interact in a more positive way with the University community members who study and work here. I’m trying to get to know as many students and faculty as I can.

I also like to watch YellowJacket basketball and football games, so I’m guessing I’ll be seen in the Palestra and at Fauver Stadium quite a bit.

When you are not working, where are you most likely to be?

Laura:  I’m a volunteer firefighter in Irondequoit, so that’s how I spend some of my evenings, and I also continue to play and ref hockey locally.  I love pretty much anything outdoors—running, biking, half-marathons, triathlons, hiking in the Adirondacks, kayaking. I have three dogs—a Great Pyrenees mix, a lab, and a duck tolling retriever—that I love to take everywhere. Oh, and I can’t forget my cat, Oscar.

Erin: “I enjoy kayaking, working on my tan while doing a lot of yard work, and I’m a huge fan of NCAA March Madness. And I used to play basketball a lot and I’ll shoot around once in a while. And if students ever see me on campus and want to invite me to play a little spikeball or even cornhole, I’d be up for that. I can play until I get called on my radio.


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