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The Difference a Decade Makes
Thanks to Joe Coppola, a stroll on campus is now a walk in the park

  Joe Coppola
Joe Coppola, Corporate Security VP, built an army against crime from the ground up.
There was a time not long ago when medical students thought twice about doing their residencies at Hopkins. The campus simply was not considered safe. But one man has changed all that.

Joe Coppola, vice president of corporate security, who joined Hopkins 10 years ago this month, has transformed a crime-ridden, inner-city medical campus into a secure oasis that spreads well beyond its borders. His all-encompassing, high-tech program—now emulated by other urban academic medical centers—has slashed robberies from 23 in 1993 to the current low of zero. Likewise, campus thefts have plummeted, from more than 700 a year to less than 200.

When he came to Hopkins in 1994 after 24 years in the Secret Service, Coppola had his work cut out for him. “The technology was the equivalent of two cans and a string, and the organization was a mish- mash,” he says. So from his rented desk and chair, he hired four directors: one each for University and Hospital buildings, one for external security and one for support services.

Because violent crime was employees’ top concern and a deterrent in recruiting faculty, Coppola and his new team launched an external protection program within months. The protective service officers (PSOs) he hired to stand guard 24/7 on campus weren’t your feet-on-the-desk variety. “We felt strongly about not just putting warm bodies out there,” says Coppola. Each PSO is put through a rigorous training program that combines psychological testing, customer service and defense tactics. Coppola soon began using his officers for a campus-wide, 24-hour escort service available for staff, patients and visitors.

Staff turnover, however, was at an all-time high of 167 percent. (The industry standard is 100.) Coppola responded by building a security career track, increasing pay grades and installing climate-controlled booths for PSOs on outdoor duty. Now the average turnover never strays beyond 65 percent, and rates among Hopkins Hospital employees are in the single digits.

Today, Coppola has an army of 534 full-time officers, including two former Baltimore City homicide detectives employed as investigators, who protect the entire Health System and operate Parking and Transportation. Coppola started with a $10 million budget, and claims it hasn’t changed much in 10 years despite significant advances in the program. Communications are state of the art; 144 strategically placed, motion-activated digital cameras provide a hawk’s view of the campus. Directors can call up any camera on their computers and use on-screen remotes to control zoom and angle at key locations. Crimes are usually property thefts, but can be as serious as armed robbery, embezzlement, prescription fraud or identity theft. Investigators interview everyone associated with the crime scene, check security systems and surveillance archives, and get the warrants.

Coppola is adamant about investing in the community. “We must send the message that we’re not here to build a moat,” he says. So woven into his grand security tapestry are a crime-stoppers tip hotline for local residents, funding for the clergy-run crime prevention group (Operation PULSE), and daily communication with law enforcement agencies at the city, state and federal levels.

Since September 11, corporate security has been working in tandem with the national alert level. PSOs now are trained in the use of special equipment, such as under-vehicle mirrors, should Hopkins ever reach the highest alert. When calls come in about suspicious activities and substances, these reports are thoroughly investigated. And in 2002, Coppola unveiled his special response unit. Recognizable by their khaki and olive uniforms and black boots, the four officers are the designated first responders in the event of a biological or chemical incident.

The extra safety measures, Coppola acknowledges, now may be perceived as overkill given the changing American mind set. “Security is a funny thing. When things aren’t going well, everybody’s up in arms, and they want it fixed at any cost. Then, when things are going well, they say, Why don’t we put our money into something else?”

But in terms of recruitment and retention, those extra measures have proven essential. Candidates are reassured when they see officers around campus, says Bonnie Alterwitz, director of career services. Karen Haller, vice president for nursing, says that while in 1993 only 13 percent of Hopkins nurses gave favorable ratings to workplace security, a current survey showed that 77 percent are satisfied. And during interviews held in preparation for the site visit of the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), house staff described security as spectacular.

Coppola says that in addition to joining the Secret Service, coming to Hopkins has been one of the best moves of his life. No one would argue with that.

—Lindsay Roylance


An elderly cardiac patient lost his wedding band after open heart surgery. In 55 years of marriage, he had never removed it. Investigator Ron LaMartina was on the case. He traced the patient’s path through the hospital. He interviewed each employee. Finally, he found the ring in a neglected drawer. But when LaMartina called the patient at home with the good news, his wife began to cry. Her husband, she explained, had just gone out to the jeweler’s to buy a new band. So LaMartina grabbed the ring, sped off in his car, and arrived in Edgewood, Md., just as the patient was pulling into his driveway. The couple was elated, the jeweler took the new ring back, and LaMartina was beaming. “That made me feel good for months,” he says. “It still does.”




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