David L. Perry has served as the new assistant vice chancellor and chief of UNC Police since Sept. 3, following the resignation of former UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken. Perry comes to the University after having served as police chief at Florida State University for 14 years.
Following Perry’s first couple weeks at the University, assistant University desk editor Evely Forte sat down with him to discuss how he’s hoping to build up missing trust between campus community members and his police force, as well as his vision for ensuring safety on campus during his time at UNC.
The Daily Tar Heel: Can you elaborate a bit on your background and experiences in community policing, specifically before your time at FSU?
David Perry: I think my community policing started when I became an Albany police officer back in 1993. I literally had to walk a beat — I had to walk a downtown area. I was instructed by my supervisors to get to know the people within that beat — talk to business owners and meet people. And I was a cool. I thought I was getting paid to go out and have good social interactions, but then he also said, ‘When crime occurs within your area, you have to be ready to respond, and hopefully you’ll meet people, and they’ll give you information where you can maybe prevent crime.’ So, I thought that was really cool at a young age to just talk to people, meet with them and then, hopefully, use them as allies to help reduce crime and just make that, my little zone, a safer place. So, that’s when community policing started for me and started in my mind.
And that transitioned into every assignment that I’ve really had because when I left being a patrol officer, as a drug task force agent, I was specific to drug investigations and drug crime, but I was still community oriented. It was helpful for communities to see we were removing people who were selling drugs in their community. It was helpful to go and talk to the elderly or people who were really concerned about loitering and people standing around about what we need to do and what times are good to come back. So, even though it was not a pretty scene, when you’re dealing with drug investigations, it was very fulfilling work to see that you could make a difference in a barrier cleaning up drugs and crime.
Those community connections continued as I accepted a position at Albany State, a Historically Black University (HBCU). Again, getting to know the university, getting to know the people, the administration, the students and working together to be successful. So those same types of approaches have worked at Clemson University, very, very successful at Florida State, and I hope to bring some of those same ideas, same energy and same commitment to community policing here.
DTH: I know mistrust on campus between University students and campus police is something that has been on the rise lately. Is there anything that you have in mind – or that you would like to accomplish while here – that would tackle that or that would try to diminish that sort of mistrust that seems to already exist in our campus culture here?
DP: Yeah, and campus culture here, I understand there have been past challenges. But I am coming in, hopefully, with this mindset for all, that we are hoping to wipe the slate clean and start over, because I am completely different from the previous administration. There has never, ever been a police chief here like me, and so I am going to use that as a good thing. But it first starts with the men and women within the department – getting them to understand what my expectations are, having a sense of urgency, providing outstanding customer service and being present and visible for the people that we serve.
I’m working, from day one, to try and change the culture and the mindset of the men and women that work here, so then we can go out, and people can start to feel some of those changes and see like, ‘Hey, they are really taking their time. The officers are here. They’re not here to spy on us. They’re here just to say hello, or they’re walking through our events.’ Just to start to change some of those past ideas about some of the interactions that police and students have had.
DTH: In addition to reshaping that campus culture, are there any initiatives you hope to implement here in terms of safety on campus – specifically related to sexual assaults and active shootings on campus?
DP: One of the very early assignments I gave myself was to look at some of the very important operating procedures and guidelines that our officers undertake for very serious crimes. Active shooters are very serious. Sexual assault reports are extremely serious. Hate crimes and hate speech, all those things that involve personal violence and safety, are very important to me. I took a very important look at the sexual assault protocol, and I was impressed. I was impressed by the checklist they use and the methodical review that’s done.
At previous institutions, it was a mandate that we would have two investigators assigned to work any sexual assault that came into our office because we take those incidents and reports very seriously. Here, we have an officer that will take an initial report. Currently, we have an investigator that will respond to do their duties, and in the future, I see implanting the same two-investigator process. Right now, we do have an officer that will take an initial report, and then they have a very detailed checklist that they have to follow so that they don’t miss any important steps in that process. But I was very comfortable with their protocol on sexual assaults.
And then, I looked at the response to active shooters because, as you know, I lived through an active shooter event on Nov. 20 of 2014. I attended the very first active shooter seminar that was conducted by our crime prevention officer Sergeant David, and he did an outstanding job. The video was a little dated, so I’m going to need some help from the students and the faculty and the administration so that we can create our own ‘Run, hide, fight’ video that is unique to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but the information was spot on.
But I do see opportunities to improve. I see opportunities to expand it probably by 30 minutes or so, to add hands-on, physical activities, so the participants can truly see what it means to just hide under a table and not do something to defend yourself versus, ‘If someone comes in here, we are going to throw this chair, that box, and we are going to work as a team to keep someone from hurting us.’ If you don’t ever go through an exercise like that, you won’t really know how it feels.
DTH: Speaking of on campus shooters, it seems like a lot of them tend to show, on social media, a variety of signs that they are inclined to do these sorts of attacks. Is there anything that campus police is doing to monitor the social media efforts of individuals on campus to prevent these attacks from occurring?
DP: I don’t use the term monitoring with social media because I don’t want to ever give the perception that the police are like just sitting around trying to monitor a student or an employee. We monitor threats and threats that are communicated through hate speech or visual pictures or other forms of communication that would alert us that it could be a potential threat. So, we use all those resources that are available to us in law enforcement to detect those types of words and phrases and those types of images that could be concerning, and once we detect those, we put all of our resources into trying to run that story down and confirm, ‘Was this person talking about North Carolina shooting a ball to win the game, and it was the bomb, or were they talking about something that was meant to hurt people?’ We do use every tool in the toolkit that is available in law enforcement.
DTH: As far as protests and demonstrations on campus, which were very prevalent here last year at UNC, do you have any protocol that you hope to implement during your term?
DP: I’ve lived through hundreds of free speech events. You'll hear Chief Perry use a different term than protest. My vernacular is free speech event because we are in a college and university setting. We are in a higher education environment. Students are expected to have free speech opportunities to express their views. The term protest is for a different setting. I think students should have the right to express how they feel and come together, peacefully, to express those views. That’s where I come in and where my staff comes in to make sure that those gatherings for free speech are peaceful. There is training that officers have gone through. I understand that maybe some of the gatherings in the past year have not gone well, but it’s a different day, different leadership style, a different expectation on what I will bring when those free speech events are formed.
I typically look forward to working with any group that is going to exercise their free speech; that’s not to give someone VIP treatment and to mistreat another group, but to hear all of the details about that group where they want to travel, how long they want to spend time there and what it will involve so that I can better prepare my staff for how to respond and provide the services that are going to be needed. So regardless of the group and regardless of the ideology, we’re there to keep the peace and make sure that that free speech event goes well and that people can still go their separate ways at the end. That’s what I’m looking forward to being a part of.
DTH: Before we wrap things up, I wanted to ask you – what do you hope your legacy here will be at Carolina? When envisioning yourself finishing up your time here at UNC, how do you hope you will be remembered?
DP: I hope to be remembered as that person – not that police officer, not that administrator – but that person who was able to reconnect the campus community in a way that was meaningful, that we get along and that we made this a more productive, safe and harmonious environment. To be a connection, a bridge builder, which are the things I’ve done all my life, so I just look forward to doing some of those same things here.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.