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Mitchell emphasizes relationship building in police chief pitch

Interim Police Chief Darren Mitchell lays out his plan for the department if he is chosen to lead.

Abigail Norton

Darren Mitchell, Acting Chief of Police of the NIU, spoke as the frontrunner for a series of open forums. Mitchell set a priority to establish a better sense of trust between students and campus police. (Abigail Norton | Northern Star)

DeKalb –Darren Mitchell, NIU Acting Chief of Police, outlined his goals to increase campus safety and build trust with the NIU community if he is selected to be NIU’s next permanent chief of police at an open forum Monday.

Mitchell has been the NIU’s acting chief of police since mid-April when he was the former NIU Chief of Police Tom Phillips retired و.

Some of these goals include making efforts to communicate with students and making the department available to students in non-emergency situations.

“We want to create spaces where students feel they can meet and welcome us, which is not a situation of crisis,” Mitchell said. “So that we can literally sit down and meet each other and do things like coffee with a cop or pizza with a cop. These are great ways to build connection and dialogue.”

Mitchell’s face is familiar across campus, and he was a member of the NIU community after his 21 years with the NIU Police Department.

“I’ve been on campus and in the community for about 30 years,” Mitchell said. “I got my undergraduate and master’s degrees at NIU. I worked for 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 set a priority to establish a better sense of trust between students and campus police. One way Mitchell will 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 an olive branch and try to build relationships.”

Mitchell emphasized the importance of communicating with the NIU community to ensure their needs and to instill a sense of trust are met.

“It also depends on what (the NIU community) thinks we can do,” Mitchell said. “If you want to meet and talk about ideas and initiatives, I am all ears. I am an unconventional police chief with a progressive mindset and I want to be flexible and adaptable.”

Enhance campus safety

Over the next two semesters, NIU is expected to move entirely away from the blue-light emergency call boxes on campus and use the university’s NIU SAFE app. Mitchell believes the positives outweigh the negatives in this transformation.

“Contact boxes have been here for about 25 years; they are old technology,” Mitchell said. “With the SAFE app, you can literally have a call box on your smartphone.”

NIU has fewer than 5,000 app downloads on a campus of more than 16,000 students, according to figures received by the Northern Star website in October. Mitchell explained the objectives of the NIU Police to spread awareness of the application to students.

“We’re working with the state student association,” Mitchell said. “They have partnered with us to help promote the benefits of the app. We also get the information on our website as well as on the various social media we own like Facebook and Twitter.”

Mitchell said the department is working on distributing information on the app on the police department’s website and spreading the benefits through social media channels and other campus organizations.

community cooperation

Mitchell addressed the NIU’s need to work and collaborate with city, county and state law enforcement to help reduce violent crime near campus. Residents of Annie Glidden North met Chief Mitchell and DeKalb David Baird in September To discuss the marked rise in crime in the neighbourhood.

“David Bird has been a fantastic partner to work with,” Mitchell said. We will talk about and develop common police strategies to fight crime. We also have a development plan to bring a contract security service to our campus in order to have uniformed unarmed security.”

Mitchell said the department has also increased foot patrols throughout the area and received positive feedback from residents and NIU members who called home in the neighborhood.

Diverse police force recruitment

In addition to his campus safety goals, Mitchell discussed his role in hiring for the NIU Police and his goals in recruiting 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 remain diverse,” Mitchell said. We want to increase the representation of women. We particularly want to increase the representation of women in leadership roles.”

Mitchell is involved with 30 in 30 initiatives, a national initiative that aims to fill 30% of law enforcement roles for women by 2030. Mitchell acknowledged that the department lacks female officers and could do better to improve the position.

“I will work hard to increase and encourage our female officers for leadership opportunities and opportunities in the department,” Mitchell said.

Other candidates are still to submit

There will be two more forums open this week for the remaining finalists. The next forum is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, with Chicago Police Chief Roderick Robinson in Altgeld Room 315 or via Zoom.

The third candidate for chief of police is scheduled to be at 1 p.m. Thursday in Altgeld Room 315. The name of the candidate is scheduled to be announced on Tuesday, 48 hours before he visits the campus.

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