Passing the Torch With Ease
When University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Chief of Police Oliver Clark retired Dec. 31 and Kris Fitzpatrick became interim chief, the transition wasn’t traumatic or rushed. Clark had prepared Fitzpatrick and other managers to run the public safety department so it would be in good hands long after he left.
When the word “leadership” is mentioned, often what comes to mind are terms like “control,” “power” and “command.” Certainly, these are admirable and necessary attributes in a campus police chief, but for former University of Illinois (U of I) Chief of Police Oliver Clark, traits like “delegation,” “trust” and “subordinate development” are equally important.
He found this to be particularly true when he announced last summer he would be retiring. If in his previous 10 years as chief he had not trained the managers who reported to him, made wise hiring decisions and delegated some significant responsibilities to others in the department, Clark’s leaving might have left U of I’s campus police force in shambles.
Fortunately, Clark had entrusted his subordinates, including Interim/Assistant Chief Kris Fitzpatrick, with increasingly challenging responsibilities. That, along with Fitzpatrick’s experience and solid reputation in the department, paved the way for a seamless changing of the guard.
CS: Overall, how easy or difficult was the transition?
Clark: It was not a difficult transition, and it should not have been. The way I operate, the department runs very well without a chief. That’s the only way you can do business, particularly on a large campus. You don’t set things up where they fall apart when a chief leaves. You have people who are capable of running the place.
If I’m gone, there’s someone who can step up and do my job. I have a lot of people sitting on the bench who can fill in the gaps when people are gone.
Fitzpatrick:I think the assistant chief is in constant training for doing other jobs. Chief Clark was involved in many projects and was president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), so he traveled a great deal. He had faith in me that I could take care of things here on campus.
As a result, there wasn’t a last-minute surge to prepare myself to be the interim chief. It was a natural transition with the things he had asked me to be doing for him already.
CS: Chief Clark, how did you prepare the department for your departure?
Clark: It was easy because I had people I trained and then gave them their assignments. They know their jobs, and I stay out of the way and let them do their work. That’s the same with my assistant Kris. She knows how to run the place.
I don’t give people an assignment and then micromanage. That’s not my style. I give them a job and the authority to do the job and get out of the way.
You can say you’re delegating to someone and then after they’ve done the job, you come back and armchair quarterback. That’s not the proper way to manage. Once the decision is made, you support that decision. It shouldn’t be a problem anyway if you’ve picked the right people.”
Additionally, you need to get the total input of your team in order to make decisions. There were very few times where I did things without the knowledge and support of my top executive officers.
CS: Chief Fitzpatrick, being that you’ve been interim chief twice – first in 1995 and currently- how different was your first experience in that position compared to now?
Fitzpatrick: In 1995, I was captain, and I learned that I was to be the interim chief just shortly before the chief retired. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to prepare myself, and I had not been exposed to as many of the administrative decisions as I have now. In the previous experience, I found myself in a position of trying to not only keep the department moving forward but also learning why certain decisions had been made.
With the current transition, I’ve already been involved in much of this, so there haven’t been the surprises. I already know who to go to for advice and what the department’s stance was and is on certain issues.
CS: What specific experiences from your previous positions are being applied to your duties as interim chief?
Fitzpatrick:It’s the contacts – knowing who to go to both in the community and on campus when there are issues and how to look at the entire issue, not just one portion. Being assistant chief helped me to do that already.
I’m not looking at the interim chief position just through the eyes of a patrol division member or investigation division member. Today it’s easier because I’ve been looking at the total picture.
CS: What were/are your top priorities for this transition process?
Fitzpatrick: I want to make sure the department sees stability and that there are no big changes coming immediately around the corner. I know the officers, and I want them to feel that I continue to have faith in them to do a good job.
It is my goal to continue to provide the campus with excellent service, making sure that our officers have the equipment, opportunity and ability to do that.
Clark: There are several things such as our pedestrian safety initiative and emergency planning initiative that still need to be done.
The main focus of the pedestrian safety initiative is figuring out the best approach to resolving some of the problems and issues we’ve got on our campus. It’s a large campus, and there are a lot of people walking and driving, especially at certain times of the day. Tragically, students have been struck and killed on our campus.
Another example is our emergency planning initiative. After 9/11, we developed a master plan, so if we have something happen like another 9/11 or if we have a major incident, such as a large fire or tornado, we have a master plan outlining who needs to do what. We were able to develop the master plan, which involved the top administrators, but a school our size has hundreds of different units. Each unit must have its own emergency plan that fits into the master plan. It’s a big job.
CS: What were your biggest challenges during the transition?
Clark: For me it was the anticipation of leaving. In the last four weeks, I tried to be especially careful when making decisions that were going to impact the department so I would not leave problems behind. It’s a challenge finding that right moment to say, ‘Hey, I’m here but I’m not here’ and just turn it all over.
Fitzpatrick: Today, I’m doing the assistant chief job as well as the interim chief job, so that has stepped up my duties somewhat. In the very near future, I’ll be appointing an interim assistant chief and other positions that will need to be filled.
CS: What suggestions would you offer other campuses on making this type of transition easier?
Clark: Ensure you have a good solid team. Everyone needs to be on board and know their jobs. Your chief administrator like me needs to step back and let employees do their work. Give them a job and let them grow.
Fitzpatrick: I think it’s important to maintain a sense of stability among everyone who works here and let people know what your goals and dreams are for the department. You don’t want to be an unknown, having people say, ‘What does this person stand for? Where are we going?’
Robin Hattersley Gray is Executive Editor of Campus Safety Magazine. She can be reached at [email protected].
For the complete version of this article, please refer to the March/April 2006 issue of Campus Safety Magazine.
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