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Boston University launches national search for new police chief

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Boston University’s top police job is open for the first time in a decade, and law enforcement experts and minority groups say the highly sought-after position, which traditionally has been filled by a retired State Police officer, should go to someone with campus or urban policing experience.

“It would be nice to have a candidate who already has a reputation with students, understands Title IX, and sexual assault on campus,” said Jacobo Negron, president of the Massachusetts Latino Police Officers Association and a Harvard University police detective.

The post opened in September when Tom Robbins retired a decade after taking over the Boston University Police Department. Robbins, a former State Police colonel, was one of many State Police officials who became police chiefs on local campuses after leaving the force.

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Over the years, such officers have led campus departments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Curry College, and Boston College.

“The campus police job historically has been just a hand-off to a retired State Police high-ranking official,” said Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police officer who is now a criminology professor at Merrimack College. “They’ve been successful at having a monopoly on them.”

Campus police chief positions are desired posts with salaries that can range from $150,000 to $250,000, depending on the candidate’s experience and the university. And for retired State Police officers, that salary comes in addition to their pensions. The job also typically includes a take-home car and free or low-cost tuition for the chief’s children.

The Boston University job also comes with responsibility. BU’s 54-member police department has a $5.7 million budget. In addition, the public safety operations at the medical campus include 88 public safety officers with a budget of $10 million and 14 armed officers assigned to the National Emerging Infectious Disease laboratory with a $2 million budget.

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With an undergraduate and graduate student population of 33,000, Boston University is the fourth-largest private university in the country. People of color make up 33 percent of the student population and international students represent 24 percent.

“Working on a campus is a little different than working in the general community,” said Lieutenant Charles P. Wilson, chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers Inc. “You have to bring to the table really good people skills. Every student group on that campus deserves their attention.”

During a recent phone interview, Robbins equated the job to “policing a large city.”

“There’s a lot of moving parts, new buildings, people from all parts of the country . . . it’s a matter of staying on top of the community itself,” he said.

Boston University officials declined to comment about their plans, but officials from the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think tank, said they have been enlisted to conduct a national search for the new chief.

The job posting says they are looking for a candidate with at least eight years of experience in law enforcement, including five years in a supervisory role. They say they want someone who will be committed to staff development and diversity and has extensive urban and community policing experience.

“We’re looking for someone who meets today’s needs and can be a chief of an urban campus,” said Chuck Wexler, the research forum’s executive director.

Wexler said this is the second time his group has helped Boston University search for a police chief, and they are doing it in a changed atmosphere now.

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“It’s different from 15 years ago when we did this,” he said. “Being a campus police chief is more demanding than ever, given issues of safety on and off campus. Campuses are every bit of a microcosm of the community they are in.”

A Globe review of Boston-area campus police departments in May found that many largely reflect the campuses they serve while a few did not. Boston University, however, was one of three that declined to provide data on the makeup of its police force.

“There are no Hispanics and Latinos on that police department,” Negron said. “I’m optimistic that the Police Executive Research Forum will find a candidate, whether a minority or not, who will see there’s a need for diversity within the department.”

Boston University’s police department also has history to overcome. In 2005, it was embroiled in controversy when its chief, Robert T. Shea, was accused in a lawsuit of making disparaging remarks about female officers, trying to hide evidence of racial profiling, and using derogatory terms for blacks and Italians. He retired that year.

Robbins replaced him and under his leadership, the department gained state and national accreditation. Robbins, who had said he only intended to stay in the job for 10 years, now plans to focus on his security consulting business.

According to campus media reports, Police Executive Research Forum will recommend up to 15 applicants late this month to the university’s Police Chief Search Committee. The committee will choose up to four candidates to interview with the university president and several other officials.

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University officials intend to have a new chief by July 1.


Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Jan_Ransom.