Can you tell us about the university’s police department?

The North­eastern Police Depart­ment is a full-​​service police depart­ment with an inves­tiga­tive unit, a robust patrol divi­sion and also areas that focus on emer­gency man­age­ment and con­ti­nuity of oper­a­tions – fire safety, secu­rity tech­nolo­gies – so it’s a depart­ment that is engi­neered to serve the entire enter­prise that is North­eastern. We are an orga­ni­za­tion rec­og­nizing the con­tem­po­rary world that we live in, rec­og­nizing our charge to ensure the safety and secu­rity of all North­eastern per­sonnel – stu­dent, staff, fac­ulty and com­mu­nity mem­bers at large. We exist in Boston; we exist in a neigh­bor­hood, so it’s our respon­si­bility to pro­tect all life, in par­tic­ular that which exists on our campus.

Our com­mu­nity out­reach has increased expo­nen­tially, our social media foot­print has increased expo­nen­tially, we’ve reached thou­sands of people in ways that we pre­vi­ously hadn’t.

Our acumen around inter­na­tional safety and secu­rity has also increased. Our ability to think tac­ti­cally has increased as well. We’ve brought on folks who have deep tac­tical expe­ri­ence. Our deputy chief, for example, has expe­ri­ence at the Miami-​​Dade Air­port where he turned that air­port around from one of the worst air­ports in the nation to one of the best.

My own back­ground, being an urban police officer for a number of years and a police chief in the sixth-​​largest city of Min­nesota brings a depth of expe­ri­ence here. So, when you look at the needs of the insti­tu­tion with the expe­ri­ence and acumen that we bring to the table, new tac­tics, new approaches are going to evolve all the time.

There’s been a lot of focus in recent days on tac­tical weapons. How do those fit into NUPD’s overall strategy?

We have what we call the “instant con­tain­ment team.” It is a team of offi­cers that are spe­cially trained, at a higher level than our already well-​​trained offi­cers, to respond to an inci­dent. What the team is looking to accom­plish is to con­tain an inci­dent. Mit­i­gate the impact on the insti­tu­tion, and really that means saving lives and pre­venting obvi­ously fur­ther cat­a­strophe from occur­ring on this campus.

But it’s not just that. We hope that our work, through engage­ment of the com­mu­nity, the way our offi­cers interact with folks throughout the campus com­mu­nity, is pre­ven­tive in nature. Look, if it’s hap­pening on your campus or your city, you’ve already lost. So the idea is not to have quick reac­tions only; the idea is to think strate­gi­cally and think about ways that you can be pre­ven­ta­tive. So what’s been lost through all this cov­erage about focusing just on the weapon is the total pro­gram that we are embarking on, which obvi­ously begins with the training and devel­op­ment of our own staff, but will also lead to a con­tinual training of our entire campus com­mu­nity around the areas of sit­u­a­tional aware­ness and to detect behav­ioral anom­alies – things that could rep­re­sent a threat to the insti­tu­tion or per­sonal safety. That is the broader picture.

Response time is impor­tant in high-​​level emer­gency sit­u­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly those involving active shooters. Can you explain the relevance?

Much has been talked about with respect to the five-​​minute time frame. So the ques­tion is, “What does the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Police Depart­ment do in the five min­utes?,” and we think it’s our respon­si­bility to be able to com­pe­tently respond to what­ever hap­pens in that first five min­utes. Of course we are sur­rounded by a huge public safety infra­struc­ture and we work well with Boston in that regard, but we’re here on campus and we need to be prepared.

How are uni­ver­sity police depart­ments dif­ferent from munic­ipal agencies?

People think about uni­ver­si­ties across the country, and not every uni­ver­sity has a police depart­ment. In the Mid­west where I’m from, very few uni­ver­si­ties have police depart­ments. They all have secu­rity staff, so people think about it in terms of the lowest common denom­i­nator of secu­rity, kind of the guard at the front gate. That’s not the way it is here. Not just our uni­ver­sity, but MIT, BU, BC and other uni­ver­si­ties have actual police offi­cers trained to do the job as a police officer and quite frankly, they take all the risks that any police officer does, as we learned through what hap­pened at MIT with Sean Col­lier. These men and women ded­i­cate them­selves to their craft like any munic­ipal police officer, state police officer, ded­i­cates them­selves to their own craft. Any­thing we do of a tac­tical nature will include the most robust training avail­able. We take it seri­ously. When you’re talking about preparing your­selves for the poten­tial for a cat­a­strophic event like this, it is all about prepa­ra­tion and it is all about prac­tice. It’s not just about handing out weapons or handing out tools. You can have the best tools in the hands of someone inex­pe­ri­enced and not be able to create much with it. It’s not about the tools, it’s about the skill and training behind it.

What can you tell us about NUPD’s training?

The training never stops. So when people say, ‘They’re well-​​trained’ it sounds like there’s a period at the end of the sen­tence. There is no period at the end of the training sen­tence. We work with our law enforce­ment part­ners, including state police, and we develop con­tinual training which hap­pens in per­pe­tuity. That’s what any com­pe­tent police agency does, and that’s what we are. Quite frankly, with my back­ground, being from a munic­i­pality where I ran an orga­ni­za­tion that had a full-​​service SWAT team – com­plete with nego­tia­tors and what I would say was the best-​​performing SWAT team in the state of Min­nesota – I would not field a team that was under-​​equipped or unprepared.

We are devel­oping a robust cur­riculum right now, which is going to be rolled out soon next semester that is really going to be geared towards dif­ferent campus pop­u­la­tions. For example, sit­u­a­tional aware­ness and being able to detect behav­ioral anom­alies. It’s really about cre­ating this cul­ture of pre­pared­ness, along with our own offi­cers exe­cuting that on a reg­ular basis. We put a pre­mium on engage­ment, offi­cers engaging with the public every single shift, having those con­ver­sa­tions with our com­mu­nity members.

Com­mu­nity out­reach is not some­thing that’s a pro­gram; it’s not some­thing that hap­pens in a silo. It is a strategy; it is an approach; it is a phi­los­ophy in how we engage our work. So it’s about con­tinual engage­ment; it’s about training, and it’s about learning. What we know about the world today is that you can never know enough. You must con­tin­u­ally seek to under­stand so you under­stand the con­text by which things exist, so you can respond appro­pri­ately with the con­tem­po­rary training that is necessary.

Could uni­ver­si­ties do without having their own police departments?

There are 18,000 police depart­ments in this country. There is a reason that the policing model is cre­ated that way; it’s so that things are done com­men­su­rate with the spe­cific needs of that com­mu­nity. Uni­ver­sity policing is no dif­ferent. What we need is dif­ferent than what BU needs, or what MIT needs. Things that are fun­da­mental, but it’s not all the same. It goes to the reason that we exist in the first place. All of these uni­ver­si­ties could opt to rely on the munic­i­pality to deliver police ser­vices. So could the transit police. So could a whole list of other police agen­cies. But the need at one point arose for these insti­tu­tions to have their own police depart­ments, and that means we have to con­tin­u­ally learn about the envi­ron­ment in which our par­tic­ular set of con­stituents, our par­tic­ular com­mu­nity, exists in so that we can keep them safe. If you don’t keep cur­rent, you become irrel­e­vant. It’s like any inno­va­tion. If it doesn’t keep cur­rent with the con­tem­po­rary needs, it becomes irrel­e­vant and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.

North­eastern is a large, urban campus with many logis­tical com­plex­i­ties. How does it ben­efit from NUPD being on site?

There are some things that are uniquely North­eastern. We are on nearly 80 acres, we have 80-​​some build­ings. We have a campus that is inter­woven into the com­mu­nity here and that presents a unique set of chal­lenges. So, that puts a pre­mium on the famil­iarity of police per­sonnel to the campus. We’re not just one address – you know, just pull up to the building and here’s the school. It is way more com­plex than that. It’s under­standing how build­ings are laid out; it’s under­standing how to respond and pre­vent egress or encourage egress if we’re trying to evac­uate a building. It is lever­aging our secu­rity tech­nology, which are robust, to be able to respond com­pe­tently. It’s not just people jumping out with weapons going to one spot – it’s about responding in a way that inte­grates the com­plexity of this campus, or any campus for that matter. So, it takes a strategy and it takes an approach that is built on becoming better all the time and building in efficiencies.

You talked about NUPD’s work and impact having a global foot­print. Can you explain?

Our stu­dents are in 130-​​plus coun­tries in the world, and just as we are respon­sible for and con­cerned about the safety and well-​​being of stu­dents on this campus. We are equally con­cerned about the well-​​being of stu­dents that are located abroad – either through co-​​op, a Dia­logue, the NUin pro­gram – you name it. Through the NUPD, we’ve built up an emer­gency response con­struct with our part­ners throughout the Uni­ver­sity to make sure that stu­dents are kept safe, that fac­ulty are kept safe and that pro­grams operate as they are intended wher­ever they exist.

In a city, you don’t deal with people over­seas. We do. We have just as much con­cern for their well-​​being as we are about the folks that are on campus every single day. It shines a light on the com­plexity of the work that we do and how that’s ever-​​evolving. That’s really our charge.

We have an inter­na­tional secu­rity team here, with a con­struct by which folks can rapidly get engaged with us and/​or author­i­ties over­seas to get what they need when they need it. Stu­dents can con­tact us, which they have, and we work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, wher­ever stu­dents are in the world to make sure that we can deal with what­ever is going on and we have dealt with some pretty com­plex issues. But it’s made us better and that’s some­thing that’s really become a strong com­pe­tency of ours, is to be able to respond effectively.

If you take the long view, what’s next?

This uni­ver­sity is growing and mor­phing all the time. It’s growing on a tra­jec­tory that causes this really rapid expanse, so we need to be posi­tioned to be able to grow along with that, and that’s what we’ve done and that’s what we’ll con­tinue to do.

Michael Davis has more than 20 years of expe­ri­ence in law enforce­ment. He was a police officer for 16 years with the city of Min­neapolis, and was chief of police for the city of Brooklyn Park, Min­nesota. He has received numerous awards and com­men­da­tions for his ser­vice. Davis also serves as a police prac­tice con­sul­tant for the Depart­ment of Jus­tice Civil Rights Divi­sion and is cur­rently the Strategic Site Liaison for the city of Detroit as part of the Vio­lence Reduc­tion Network.