DeKALB — Darren Mitchell, acting NIU chief of police, outlined his goals for increasing campus safety and building trust with the NIU community if selected as the next permanent NIU chief of police in an open forum Monday.
Mitchell has been the acting NIU Chief of Police since mid-April when former NIU Chief of Police Tom Phillips retired.
Some of these goals include making efforts to communicate with students and making the department available for students in non-emergency situations.
“We want to create spaces where students feel like they can meet and greet us, and it isn’t a crisis situation,” Mitchell said. “So that we can literally just sit down and meet with each other and do things like coffee with a cop or pizza with a cop. These are great ways to build a connection and dialogue.”
A familiar face around campus, Mitchell has been a member of the NIU community well beyond his 21 years with the NIU Police Department.
“I’ve been on campus and in the community for around 30 years,” Mitchell said. “I got my undergrad and masters at NIU. I’ve been serving the NIU Police Department for 21 years and the university for 26 years.”
Building trust with the community
As an officer and now as a potential future chief of police, Mitchell outlined a priority to establish a better sense of trust between students and campus police. One of the ways Mitchell would do this is to re-establish community safety centers and have officers available to engage with the community.
“Relationship building is always important,” Mitchell said. “I think the onus is on the police to extend the olive branch and try to build relationships.”
Mitchell focused on the importance of communication with the NIU community to ensure that their needs are being met to establish a sense of trust.
“It also depends on what you (the NIU community) think we can do,” Mitchell said. “If you want to get together and talk about ideas, initiatives, I’m all ears. I’m a non-traditional progressive-minded police leader that wants to be flexible and adaptable.”
Furthering campus safety
Over the next two semesters, NIU is expected to fully transition away from blue light emergency call boxes on campus and use the university’s NIU SAFE app. Mitchell believes the pros outweigh the cons in this transition.
“The call boxes have been here for about 25 years; they’re outdated technology,” Mitchell said. “With the SAFE app, you can literally have a call box on your smartphone.”
NIU has less than 5,000 downloads of the app on a campus of over 16,000 students, according to numbers received by the Northern Star in October. Mitchell explained NIU police’s goals to spread awareness of the app to students.
“We are working with the Student Government Association,” Mitchell said. “They have partnered with us to help promote the benefits of the app. We are also getting the information out on our website and also different social media that we have such as Facebook and Twitter.”
Mitchell said the department is working to distribute information on the app on the police department’s website and disseminate the benefits via social media channels and other campus organizations.
Mitchell addressed the need for NIU Police to work and collaborate with city, county and state law enforcement to help curb violent crime near campus. Residents of the Annie Glidden North neighborhood met with Mitchell and DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd in September to discuss the perceived uptick in crime in the neighborhood.
“David Byrd has been an amazing partner to work with,” Mitchell said. “We will talk about and develop co-policing strategies in order to combat crime. We have also a development plan to bring contract security service to our campus in order to have unarmed, uniformed security.”
Mitchell said the department also increased foot patrols around the area and has received positive feedback from residents and NIU members who call the neighborhood home.
Recruiting a diverse police force
In addition to his goals for campus safety, Mitchell discussed his role in staffing for the NIU police and his goals of hiring and maintaining a diverse police department, which includes adding more women to the NIU Police force.
“We are a diverse police department, and we want to stay diverse,” Mitchell said. “We want to increase the representation of women. Particularly we want to increase representation of women in leadership roles.”
Mitchell has been involved with the 30 by 30 initiative, a national initiative aimed at having 30% of law enforcement roles be filled by women by 2030. Mitchell acknowledged the department is lacking in female officers and could do better to improve in that position.
“I’m going to work very hard in order to increase and encourage our female officers for leadership opportunities and opportunities in the department,” Mitchell said.
Other candidates still to present
There will be two more open forums this week for the remaining two finalists. The next forum is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, with Chicago Police Commander Roderick Robinson in Altgeld room 315 or via Zoom.
The third candidate for the chief of police position is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday in Altgeld room 315. The name of the candidate is scheduled to be released on Tuesday, 48 hours prior to their visit to campus.