Editorial: Expectations for Phillips

By Northern Star Editorial Board

A call for change is one thing NIU’s new police chief needs to hear. He says he’s already on it.

The point that NIU needs change has been made since before the scandal-plagued departure of former chief Don Grady. It was made before FBI agents invaded the campus and searched through the police department in spring, and it was made before Eddie Williams, who oversaw the department as a vice president, retired following the news he was a subject in the FBI’s investigation.

So when the Editorial Board heard there was a new sheriff in town, we were excited, but we also had concerns. Tom Phillips will be helped by Bill Nicklas, vice president of public safety and community relations; Nicklas has already taken steps to change the department: He has increased collaboration with the DeKalb Police Department and eliminated dozens of positions from the once-bloated campus police force. Still, there’s more to do, so here’s our advice:

• Keep your nose clean. Last year saw more than its fair share of scandals, shakeups and shakedowns. We’re not interested in any more FBI visits or sudden retirements. Grady and Williams are innocent until proven guilty — and the Star supports that — but the scandals attached to their names have hurt NIU’s less-than-sterling reputation. The less we see your name in national news, the better things may be.

• Formulate clear plans as soon as possible. The Editorial Board knows you need to learn the lay of the land before moving forward with changes, but the board was also disappointed at your apparent lack of a well-planned strategy. We want a decisive leader who will release his immediate and long-term goals, and will show us what steps he will take to meet those goals.

• Work with DeKalb Police Chief Gene Lowery. Things changed for the better when Darren Mitchell and Nicklas took over the department: DeKalb and NIU police started actively collaborating, as evidenced when the departments joined together for a Detective Exchange Program in March.

• Be transparent. Too often, Grady declined to speak with the Northern Star; this made it harder for the police department to bridge the gap between officers and community members.

Another avenue for transparency? Share the findings of your CompStat model: Where are crimes being committed? Who are the victims and who the perpetrators? If you want to truly show the campus is safe, as you said in today’s article, release your department’s findings as often as possible so community members can see the hard facts about campus safety.

Furthermore, be open with the community about the departments’ plans. NIU President Doug Baker frequently emails messages and news to the campus; a word from the university police chief won’t hurt students’ inboxes.

Reach out to students with information about local crime, and be present around the campus.

Time will tell if Phillips will keep his promises, and the university’s critics — and the Star — will be watching. Don’t disappoint us, chief.