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Our View: NIU’s wish list for new police chief

It sounds as though Northern Illinois University officials are looking for a markedly different leader for NIU’s 63-officer police department.

In light of the scandals of the past several months, that would seem to be entirely appropriate.

Bill Nicklas, NIU’s vice president of public safety and community relations, said Tuesday that the university wants its next chief to be a teacher, a leader, and expert on campus law enforcement.

They’re looking for someone who will work with colleagues at a moment’s notice, which would seem to mean someone who will accept and offer help when it comes to community policing issues, as well as work with others who work at NIU.

Nicklas also said they’re looking someone who can be diplomatic. That would seem to indicate that looking intimidating in a uniform will be less important.

“We’re not looking for someone aloof from the university’s mission,” Nicklas said.

Sounds like a great start. To that, we would add that the next chief should not be aloof when it comes to explaining the police department’s goals and priorities to the public. They should also be brave enough to speak to the news media when there are important questions about events or investigations.

Taxpayers would also probably like the next chief to earn a salary that is comparable to that of other university police chiefs in the state without being the highest paid.

The scandals of the past several months must have proven frustrating at times for the rank-and-file officers of the university’s police department. It would seem only natural that people whose job is to enforce the law might be aggravated or embarrassed at seeing their police station subject to a daylong FBI search, as was the case in February.

Likewise, having the department’s investigative methods publicly criticized by a judge and state’s attorney – as occurred with the rape case against former NIU police officer Andrew Rifkin in November – was probably a source of some irritation.

The subsequent suspension and later firing of Chief Donald Grady, for which the Rifkin case was a catalyst, also brought more negative headlines.

However, those allegations are more about isolated incidents, and should not be considered a stain on the integrity of the entire police department.

Officials seem to be on the right track as far as the qualities they are looking for in a new police chief. Finding the right person will be key to allowing the department to move past the bad publicity.

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