NIU police chief to retire mid-April

Deputy Chief Darren Mitchell, a 21-year veteran at the department, will step in as acting chief.


NIU Department of Police

NIU Police Chief Tom Phillips is set to retire in mid-April.

By Kierra Frazier

DeKALB – NIU Police Chief Tom Phillips will retire in mid-April after seven years of service, according to a Wednesday news release. Deputy Chief Darren Mitchell, a 21-year veteran at the department, will step in as acting chief of the NIU Police Department. 

“I have always believed that better-quality police officers do a better job of serving their community, so I placed a premium upon professional development for the entire department,” Phillips said in the release. “It has proven to be a great investment because as a result, I believe we have an outstanding group of men and women on the force, and it has been my privilege to lead them.” 

Phillips joined the NIU Police Department in September 2013 with more than 25 years of policing experience, including 17 years at the University of Illinois-Chicago, a year at the University of Chicago and eight years in the military police. 

Phillips’ efforts over the past seven years at the department include launching a community policing initiative and starting a Citizens Police Academy to educate members of the university community about the work that police do, both in front of and behind the scenes. 

 “I always tell my officers to police like they want their families policed,” Phillips said in the release. “Our officers have an excellent reputation for treating people with dignity and respect, and I couldn’t be prouder of them for that.”

For the first time in its history, the department is on its way to being certified by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police; only about 5% of police departments in the state have met standards for training, operations and policy development. 

That record of accomplishment will make for big shoes to fill, said NIU Chief of Staff Matt Streb.

“During his more-than-seven years on campus, Chief Phillips has been an exceptional leader, instilling a culture of professionalism in the department while actively engaging the entire university community in making NIU a safe place to live, learn and work,” Streb said in the release. “We are grateful for his service and passion for supporting students in a transformative time of their lives.”

The search to replace Phillips will begin in the fall when faculty and students are expected to return to campus and can help select the next leader for the department.

Mitchell, the incoming acting chief, has been on campus since he arrived 33 years ago as a first-year student studying political science. He completed his degree in 1994. That same year, he joined the CHANCE Program as an assistant director and earned a master’s degree in Adult Continuing Education in 1998. 

In January of 2000, Mitchell joined the NIU Police as a patrol officer. He rose to the rank of patrol sergeant and was put in charge of a new community policing model that established Community Safety Centers within each of the residence halls. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2005 and achieved the rank of deputy chief in 2011.

“Darren Mitchell has a long history of service and leadership to the department, and we are confident that the safety of our university community will be in good hands as we undergo the process of finding an individual to fill this important role on campus,” Streb said in the release.