More than a job for NIU’s new chief of police

Mitchell: ‘NIU has been home for me. It has been home for me for 33 years.’

NIU+Chief+of+Police+Darren+Mitchell+works+in+his+office+during+a+Jan.+19+visit+with+the+Northern+Star.+Mitchell+has+been+a+member+of+the+NIU+Police+Department+for+22+years+and+doesnt+just+call+NIU+his+place+of+work%2C+but+his+home.+%28Zulfiqar+Ahmend+%7C+Northern+Star%29

Zulfiqar Ahmend

NIU Chief of Police Darren Mitchell works in his office during a Jan. 19 visit with the Northern Star. Mitchell has been a member of the NIU Police Department for 22 years and doesn’t just call NIU his place of work, but his home. (Zulfiqar Ahmend | Northern Star)

 

On Jan. 1, NIU Interim Chief of Police Darren Mitchell formally became NIU Chief of Police. Mitchell was announced as the University’s next permanent police chief on Dec. 14, but Mitchell’s ties to the DeKalb and NIU communities span 22 years in uniform and 33 years as a part of the Huskie community.

A Huskie since undergrad

Darren came to NIU in 1988 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science and has since earned his master’s in adult continuing education, married his college sweetheart and raised a family all in DeKalb. For Mitchell, NIU and DeKalb are more than just a community.

“NIU has been home for me,” Darren Mitchell said. “It has been home for me for 33 years.” 

Darren grew up in the Chicago South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville, raised by a single mother who made it a point that education was the key to a future. 

“My mother was very insistent on pursuing education,” Darren Mitchell said. “That’s the way in which you know, you achieve your dreams and goals.” 

An unexpected career path

While education was the vessel toward success, Darren never thought he wanted to become a police officer.

“I wanted to be an attorney,” Darren Mitchell said. “When my friend introduced me to the policing opportunity (at NIU), I said, no.” 

The Bronzeville native said that growing up on the South Side, he had a lot of the same feelings young Black men still have to this day toward the police, which included a lack of trust. While never directly toward him, Darren saw a lot of negative engagements with the police growing up in his neighborhood which shaped his view toward law enforcement. 

It wasn’t until after a meeting with then NIU Chief of Police John Pickens that Darren decided to join the force. Becoming an officer allowed Darren to support his family while allowing him to pursue his law degree. 

While his motives for joining the force were to help him pursue a law degree, those motives quickly changed as he began his shifts for the NIU Police Department.

“At the time, it was a selfish motive because I was more focused on getting a law degree than I was to actually, you know, be a longtime police officer,” Darren Mitchell said. “Once I got into the job, I fell in love with it.” 

Darren Mitchell through the years

A passion for doing good

Since 2000, Darren Mitchell has risen through the ranks of the NIU Police Department. Starting as a patrol officer and working through various commands and departments within NIU Police, no matter where Darren went, his personality and value of living by the golden rule followed with.

Chief Mitchell embraces a member of the NIU community during a visit to Holmes Student Center on Jan. 19. Melody Mitchell, Darren’s wife said that he lives by the golden rule and treats everyone with dignity and respect wherever he goes. (Zulfiqar Ahmend | Northern Star) (Zulfiqar Ahmend)

“The values she (Darren’s mother) instilled in him is living by the golden rule,” Melody Mitchell, wife to Darren Mitchell and Chief of Staff and assistant dean of strategic communications at the NIU College of Law said. “Treating people how you want to be treated, you know, treating people with dignity and respect.” 

Over their 32-year relationship, Melody has seen those qualities and his experience as a father lift up Darren in his job within the NIU Police department and prepare himself to handle this position as Chief of Police. 

“Our two sons recently graduated and our daughter’s in college,” Melody Mitchell said. “As a father, he understands how parents are concerned about their most prized possession, their children and their safety.”

Darren said a domestic violence incident involving a mother and young children opened his eyes to the good he could do as an officer.

“After that, I was just so focused and determined,” Darren Mitchell said. “My work just kind of helped bolster my ambition to want to just have more impact.”

A chance to flip the script

Darren is the first NIU Chief of Police to be hired from within the department over its 58-year history. Darren said that he has either supervised, served or coordinated with every aspect of this department.

As a father, he understands how parents are concerned about their most prized possession, their children and their safety.”

— Melody Mitchell, wife of Darren Mitchell

Since 2000, the view of the police as a public service has changed. With current events such as George Floyd in Minneapolis and Laquan McDonald in Chicago, trust in police has diminished, but Darren hopes he can contribute to changing that narrative as chief. 

“As a member of the police force, I started to think to myself, more people like me should pursue these opportunities,” Darren Mitchell said. “You’ll see the benefit that you can have on helping to improve police and connect with it that’s beneficial for the individual and for the community.” 

As chief, Darren wants the NIU Police Department to operate in a manner that’s supported through “procedural justice measures.” These measures are built by establishing trust, giving people a voice when you have encounters with them and conveying a level of trustworthiness when working with the community. 

“The level of trust, it’s sad to see, but I also understand,” Darren Mitchell said. “Policing has to continue to evolve, and we will. I think we’re at a place now where the die is cast and people expect more from police as they should.”