Members of the Penn State University Police Officers’ Association have voiced strong concerns over leadership in the department, going so far as to ask the university administration that a key official be removed from his position.
According to a press release, Penn State’s senior leadership and the university’s POA are now in the midst of collective bargaining discussions. The release comes about a month after the POA asked for Charlie Noffsinger, assistant vice president for University Police and Public Safety, to be removed from his position.
Noffsinger was named assistant vice president for University Police and Public Safety in May 2016, overseeing all facets of Penn State’s police and public safety operations.
The request for Noffsinger to be removed from his position was made in a “vote of no confidence” letter obtained by the Centre Daily Times that was sent in September to officials, including Penn State President Eric Barron and David Gray, Penn State’s senior vice president for Finance and Business.
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According to the letter, the POA’s 125 members were asked two questions in a vote that began Aug. 29 and remained open through Sept. 4. Members were asked: “Do you have confidence in AVP Noffsinger’s leadership? Do you request any change in his leadership position?”
Of the 106 members that voted, 104 of them — or 98 percent — voted they have no confidence in Noffsinger’s leadership. The remaining two members voted they have full confidence in Noffsinger.
The letter from the POA described a work environment filled with hostility, fear and distrust due in part to Noffsinger’s lack of leadership.
“We have lost all confidence and faith in AVP Noffsinger’s abilities to lead or manage this University’s Police and Public Safety Department,” the letter said. “AVP Noffsinger’s flippant demeanor in regards to the current working conditions that have been brought to his attention has dragged morale, system-wide, to an all-time low.”
Aside from the working conditions for current officers, the POA said Noffsinger’s ineffectiveness has prevented the department from retaining highly skilled officers and hampered the recruitment of qualified applicants, which is “exacerbating our preexisting staffing crisis.”
“It is as if he simply views us as inanimate objects with the same level of importance as pawns on a chess board,” the letter said. “This, coupled with our membership’s growing concerns regarding AVP Noffsinger’s integrity, has caused us to arrive at the conclusion that our relationship with him is irreparable.”
The letter also criticized the response to a murder-suicide at the Penn State Beaver Campus in December 2017.
Gray responded to the POA’s letter less than a week later.
“Although we are concerned by employees’ expressed lack of confidence in Mr. Noffsinger, and take these concerns seriously, we do not feel that consideration of a change in the leadership of UPPS at this time would be appropriate,” Gray wrote.
Following a request for comment on the situation Friday, Penn State issued a statement encouraging patience as the two sides negotiate through the first collective bargaining agreement.
“Providing a safe environment in which our students, faculty and staff can live, learn and work is paramount,” Gray said. “We also take employees’ expressed concerns seriously. It should be noted, however, that many of the issues identified in communications from the union are the subject of bargaining, and we believe the bargaining process is the proper forum in which to address these issues.”
Gray, who has ultimate oversight of University Police and Public Safety, also said Noffsinger is playing a “crucial role” in the negotiations for a new contract with the POA.
“We support Noffsinger and do not feel that consideration of a change in the leadership of University Police and Public Safety is appropriate or called for at this time,” Gray said. “We respect that process and look forward to continuing constructive discussions at the bargaining table between Penn State and the PSU-POA.”
Penn State police recently drew widespread criticism for using a state police low-flying helicopter to disperse a “disorderly” tailgate ahead of the Penn State vs. Ohio State football game on Sept. 29. With the incident at the tailgate under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration, Penn State police announced it would discontinue the use of a helicopter to make crowd announcements at football games.