Two finalists for the vacant UNC police chief position were on campus Tuesday morning for a question and answer session, as part of the University’s formal hiring process.
David Perry began his law enforcement career in Albany, Georgia — moving from an investigator role to a position in the drug unit — and was appointed chief of police at Albany State University, his alma matter, at age 26.
On June 21, the two other finalists participated in the same type of event. Johnny Jennings is Deputy Chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department, and Dave Kelly is a Major on NC State’s force.
UNC recently appointed Thomas Younce to lead the department in an interim capacity, and hopes to have a permanent replacement for McCracken, who left his role on July 1, by the start of the fall semester.
He accepted the police chief position at Florida State University in 2006, and immediately prior to that was deputy chief at Clemson University. In total he has nearly 25 years of law enforcement, and specializes in higher education settings.
“There’s a time to be the police,” Perry said. “That’s to be community oriented, provide information, be a partner. But then there's also a time to be the po-lice, and that's when you have to go out and enforce the laws, hold people accountable. You have to actually do the job of enforcement, or there’s no real fear of reprisal.”
The FSU police force is similar in size to that of UNC, with 67 sworn officers. Like other candidates for the job, Perry has managed large-scale operations: citing events that saw over 80,000 strong.
He was in charge when Jameis Winston, the FSU-turned-NFL quarterback, was accused but never charged for rape. Perry was criticized by the press at the time and was asked about the experience on Tuesday.
“Our officers had a limited role in dealing with the victim. Ultimately, it was turned over to the Tallahassee police department for review,” he said. “There were lots of lessons learned. I can't say the university did everything right, but I can tell you that we take sexual assault very seriously.”
Perry said he amended policies following the Winston incident, making it mandatory to assign two investigators to every sexual assault case that came through the department.
Communications professor Lawrence Grossberg asked Perry how the police could be expected to investigate complaints and discipline their own when a “significant trust gap” exists between parts of the University community and the force.
“To be honest, that’s very disheartening,” Perry responded.
Perry said it was difficult to imagine leaving his community in Florida, but the prestige associated with the UNC police chief job led him to apply.
“I haven't made up my mind if I’m coming to UNC,” he said. “Just like you all are examining me, and questioning, and trying to see what skills and abilities that I bring to the table, I’m also seeing what infrastructure is in place here, how the community is receiving to visitors, the totality of everything. It is not an easy decision for me to sit in this chair, on this stage, in this moment.“
Next up was Gerald Lewis, University of Texas at San Antonio's police chief, who advocated bolstering a culture of respectfulness on campus, and created a public safety advisory committee at UTSA — comprised on students, faculty and staff.
He has served in his position since 2016, and was at East Carolina University prior to that, where he was police chief for two years. Before moving into higher ed law enforcement leadership, Lewis worked his way up to the rank of Major in the New Jersey State Police Office over the course of 26 years as a state trooper.
“I am always humbled and honored to hear what the Lord has allowed me to accomplish,” he said.
He was the first African-American to serve as chief spokesperson for the New Jersey State Police, and worked with the NAACP to encourage the recruitment of minority candidates to the state police. His efforts helped produce the two most diverse classes in the state’s history, which graduated in 2013.
Lewis both propped up the first amendment as indispensable to his philosophy, but simultaneously spoke out against those who incorporated nasty language and disrespect into their demonstrations. He showed a picture of students protesting on campus with duct tape over their mouths.
“This is a silent protest on campus. In my opinion this is one of the best protests,” he said.
When he retired as a state trooper, Lewis was the highest-ranking Black trooper serving on the force, and used his position as the face of the state police to help fight back against racial profiling and discrimination in New Jersey.
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