- Synopsis: BackgroundKeywords: Poverty, violent, U.S. Army, marriages, kids, University of Chicago, campus police, Chicago, NIUTranscript: COIL: How is it? RAMIREZ: Okay. Ready?
COIL: Yes. My name is Anna Coil. I'm here today with my fellow interviewer, Naomi Ramirez and our narrator, Chief Phillips. Today is Tuesday September 17, 2019. We're here today in DeKalb Public Library to conduct an oral history interview for NIU's 125th Anniversary Oral History Project. Thank you for participating in this project. I'd like to start with your background. Would you say a bit about it, such as where you grew up and your life before NIU?
PHILLIPS: Yes. I was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. I grew up in a single-parent household, in extreme poverty. I grew up in an environment in the Rust Belt in the Midwest. Child of the 80s, my teen years were during the '80s. I thought I'd always work in the trades. I always thought I'd work in an auto factory or something along that lines, but I watched as all those factories closed down, and there really weren't any jobs for somebody coming out of high school. As a matter of fact, I dropped out of high school in the 9th grade to work full-time and help support my family. I never thought in a million years, I would ever go to college. I didn't know anybody that went to college. That was something that rich kids did.I grew up in a very poor neighborhood, in a very violent environment in that community. Never in a million years thought I'd be a police officer. Right around 18, laid off from a construction job. Really had nothing going on for me. I called up a US Army recruiter and I said, "Can I go in the military because there's really nothing here for me? I don't even have a high school education." I was very lucky because it was 1987 and then the recruiter said, "Listen, we have a brief window. We don't take high school dropouts any more, but we do have a brief special program. We have a window that if you take the entrance exam and you score high enough, we'll give you a one-year conditional contract, but you have to get you a GED in that time or we put you back out."I took the test, obviously, I scored high enough, but because I lacked a high school diploma, they only gave me a certain number of jobs. The military has a million jobs, but there was only a few different jobs that I could select from and one of them was military policeman. Again, in a million years, me? not in a million years. I ended up falling into it and I fell in love with it.I served in the Army, active duty for eight years and had really expanded my horizons, not only from an educational standpoint, but from a job knowledge standpoint and a cultural expansion of my mind. My first duty station was in Central America, in Panama, in the late '80s. It was a challenging time down there. That's where I met my first wife. She's from South America. I fell in love and had a baby and did all the things that young men do. Left there, moved to California for a couple of years and my last four years were in Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico.During that time, I managed to get that GED. Wanted to go to college, but again, being a soldier and going to schools was not really compatible. Learned Spanish by ear, I'm fluent in Spanish. Left the military. I decided after eight years I was going to leave because I was below the poverty line. I was serving our country and I qualified for food stamps and I was too proud to take them. I left the military to seek a civilian police job because I knew that I could make a decent wage. Looking for a job, while you are living in the Caribbean was difficult. Ended up finding one with the city of Chicago, with Inspector General's Office for the City of Chicago. I'd never been to Chicago in my life. I flew up there for a job interview and I got the job.When I got out of the military in the mid-'90s, I moved my family to Chicago. I worked for the city for a couple of years. By then my son was a couple of years old, my oldest son. I was working an investigation that crossed over into a state-funded school, University of Illinois, Chicago, and I learned that they had a campus Police Department. I called them up looking to exchange information on this investigation I was doing. I asked what most people that-- never been around a university or a large university, "Do you have a police department?" They were like, "Yes, we have a full-service Police Department. Most people don't realize that for big colleges." They said, "And we're hiring." I said, "Maybe I'll take that test just to see how I do."I was curious and fascinated by it. I ended up taking the test and I was number one on the hiring list. I was hired by the University of Illinois, Chicago Police Department, under community policing grant in the '90s. I saw that as an opportunity for me. I said if I work at a college, I had no excuse not to go to college. It didn't happen right away for me, but my first priority, even above myself, was that for my son to be able to have the things that I didn't to go to school. He eventually did. He grew up on that campus in Chicago. My mission while I was there, and I was there almost two decades, was to make sure that campus was safe.When my son did go to college, I told him he could go anywhere he wanted, but he was going to go to the UIC, that when he did go to school that the campus would be safe for him. That's why I was asking you what you thought about safety. After a few years, I started taking classes, working two jobs actually and going to school. I did it one class at a time. It took me almost 10 years to get my Bachelor's. My son did, he went to UIC, graduated. He's out in the world now. He'll be 30 next week.While I was there, I ended up-- me and his mother divorced. I was a single father, I kept my son. He'd live with me, which was also challenging as a single parent and trying to work and go to school. While I was in that police department, I wore almost every hat that I could have in that department. I was a bicycle officer, I was the only working motorcycle police officer in the City of Chicago. I worked patrol, I supervised the detective unit, I taught officers firearms and tactics and everything you would do in a police department.After nearly two decades, I realized that the progression wasn't there, the promotions. I felt like I mastered everything I could do in that department and I wanted to progress further in my career. Meanwhile, I met my second wife, who also had a son from her previous marriage. He was a little guy, he was like a year and a half. We ended up getting married. He's my son, I've raised him since he was born, so I have two sons. One of them is currently- he's an NIU grad and he's also in the second year of law school here, and that's my middle son, Brandon. He went to school where I work, which is maybe a little bit overprotective, but it’s just I want to make sure the campus is safe where my kids are. I take my job pretty seriously.When I left UIC, I had an opportunity to go to the University of Chicago. It was a promotion, it was an opportunity that help build that Police Department, a private institution. I was only there a short period of time, a little less than a year when they were looking for a Chief in NIU. Yesterday was my sixth anniversary as the Chief here. I applied for the job, I came out and I'd never been to DeKalb, I couldn't have told you where it was on a map. I came out and I really liked the campus, I liked the setup.It was after more than two decades of policing on the Westside of Chicago, I was ready. Not that I was going to retire or take it easy, but somewhere along the line there, right as I was finishing that Bachelor's and my wife was finishing her RN in nursing, she got pregnant. At 40 years old, I was going to be a father again, which was kind of shocking, but I got my wish. I have my little girl. I got a daughter, she'll be 10 next week. I really wanted the environment to raise my daughter where, just to be candid, that is outside of city living. I wanted her to be able to run in the backyard, which is challenging when you live in an urban environment. You can't let your kids just go outside. Where we're at now, my daughter runs, and plays, and has her group and normal things for kids.I really was passionate about coming out here for my personal life, but also, it was an opportunity for me to be a Chief, and I wanted to lead a campus police department. At the time, my middle son had not started college and he was still in high school. We didn't know if he'd end up going to NIU, but he did. It just seemed to fit for all the reasons that a young adult, stay at home and go to school, savings and things of that nature.I came here. I've been here six years and it's been pretty awesome. That's me in a nutshell. Let me back up one more thing. 2013, when I finally did get that Bachelor's, I said, "I'm not going to stop. I kept rolling, and nickeled and dimed it one class at a time and in 2016, I got my Masters from here, from NIU, but I don't think I'm doing PhD. That's me. That's my story.
- Synopsis: Living AbroadKeywords: Panema, African-American,culture-shock, foreign, minority, diversityTranscript: COIL: You said you spent time in Panama, how did your time abroad help you to work with the students and faculty of NIU?
PHILLIPS: I grew up in and around a predominantly African-American community. For a big portion of my youth, I was used to being the minority in that environment. Like in the fifth grade, I went to an all-black school. I was the only white kid in the school including teachers. When you're in that environment, it widens your perspective on the world. When I went to South America, where I've seen culture shock from a lot of Americans of all races and colors when you go over to another country, there was some culture shock there.What I learned was the culture shock was foreign to me. When I got on an army base in Panama, I was 18 years old and I couldn't wait to go down and curiously see what life was like in Central America. There were soldiers that in two years, three years, that never really left the base. They were afraid to engage people that looked different or didn't speak their language. It was the opposite for me. I couldn't get enough of it. I remember learning Spanish. For me, I didn't try. I would be on a bus and I would hear somebody say something in Spanish and it would just drive me crazy and I had to know what that word meant. I literally learned one word at a time by ear.Then, at the time, I met my first wife and then, I really dug her, right? She was struggling to learn English, so I had to learn Spanish. It was like I had to figure that out. What it did for me in a broader perspective was embrace other cultures. It seemed natural for me and organic. I wasn't shy for that. What was foreign for me was to see others that wouldn't. I think that paid dividends for me later on.I talk about this pretty frequently and sometimes it surprises people, like, "Why did you stay with university policing." I didn't understand it at the time. At first, my motive was to get my education and have my kids get an education, to get what I didn't have a chance to get when I was a young man, but somewhere along the line at UIC, I realized, "This feels really abnormally comfortable for me." When I reflected back on it years later, I realized it was the diversity. It was a norm for me to be around people of different cultures and different languages, and passionate about learning and getting that degree. It was also very similar.College campuses, you might not think about this, is kind of similar to military base. People don't think of it that way, but think about this, people that go in the military are what? 18 to 24, they all get together in the certain space, they have a different mission, but really, it's the same group of people, just a different area, different community. Reflecting back on that, I realized that college campus was my comfort zone. I had plenty of opportunities that I could have went out to be a Chicago police officer, or other agencies, or whatever, but I love University Policing.Now, here I am, the twilight of my career. Although I'm older, all of you stay the same age. [laughs] I think it broadened my perspective. This was a natural fit for me to embrace diversity and other cultures.
- Synopsis: Starting at NIUKeywords: FBI National Training, Chief, solider, predecessor, mediaTranscript: COIL: Back to when you first started at NIU, we’re aware of the unfortunate circumstances the last Chief left under. How did that affect you when you started?
PHILLIPS: Yes, I was aware of that obviously. I was working at University of Chicago. I was only there for a brief period of time. When I decided to leave UIC, I never left the job market per se. It wasn't that I was unhappy at University of Chicago, I had a decent salary, it was a promotion for me, but the Chief jobs kept rolling in.Going back to 2011, I arrived here in 2013, in 2011, I was selected for, I dare say, the most prestigious law enforcement executive training school in the world. I was selected to go to the FBI National Academy. There's been roughly 260 sessions of this academy since the 1920s. It is the golden ticket if you're ever going to be an executive. I wasn't even at the rank to be selected for that. I had not elevated enough, but I was selected from the FBI Field Office based on my training and credentials and they said, "Are you interested?" I said, "Absolutely." What that did was open up my world.When I went to Quantico for 10 weeks, it really was an epiphany for me to say, "Hey, I could be a Chief." Just like I never thought I would be a soldier, I never thought I'd be a police officer, I never thought any of those things, I never thought I'd go to college. I love being an officer and I never thought about being the Chief. It was just, "It's for other guys," because it's a whole different game being at the top.I say all that to say that to say, when I went to University of Chicago, I never left the job market. I had a different perspective. I was like, "If they can do it, I can do it." All these Chief jobs were coming up. I was familiar with NIU, not by the geography, but some of the officers that used to work in this department transferred to University of Illinois, so I knew officers that used to work here. I never thought I would work here. [cough] Excuse me.When the job came up, I was following it in the media like everyone else at the time. [cough] Excuse me. I didn't have intimate details and what really happened. It was just what the news had reported, and you see that sometimes that's not always accurate. I can't speak to my predecessor on specifics of that, but what I will tell you is that one thing I know, I didn't think there were any corrupt police officers. I mean, it's a university police department. I thought maybe there was maybe some leadership challenges inside the agency, maybe some policy issues that needed to be addressed, but having grown up the way I did, and having built a solid foundation in leadership from the military and in policing, I did not shy away from controversy, I did not shy away from adversarial topics.When this topic came up, or when this job came up, rather, I said, "You know what, I'm going to put my name in the hat." I remember having the dialogue with my wife and I said, "I don't know. Do you think they would consider me?" My wife, I remember her telling me, my wife, Nan said, "Look, I've never heard you say or doubt that you couldn't do something. As a matter of fact, if someone tells you, you can't, you will do it." It kind of lit a fire under me and I was like, "Okay, I'm going to go get that job."I applied for the job. When made the finalist thing and we came out here, I approached this position as, "No, I'm going to be the Chief here. It's just a matter of fact. I don't know who else applied, but this gig's mine." I came in because of a couple things and a couple things you probably don't hear and you may not even heard in your lifetime. I love the police. We don't hear that enough. All you see in the media is the things that police officers do wrong or it's presented like they're doing something wrong. Having worked my entire life serving the public and having to deal with crisis situations and issues with the community, I see firsthand what police officers deal with and what they have to cope with. People forget that they're human beings.When I take the suit off, you ask my kids, you walk in my house, you'd never know I was a police officer, or a Chief, or anything, I'm dad, I'm this. When I looked at this agency, I'd love to have something to fix and sink my teeth into and to make better. If you go back over the last six years, if you google this agency, you may still see pictures of that controversy or an occasional news article. I dare say that if you really look down that Google list, you're going to see all the wonderful things that that agency does and that the people do within it. There's a lot of great people that work in that agency. I work with heroes every day and I'm proud of that. Did I answer your question?
- Synopsis: Roles at NIUKeywords: Police, roles, leadership, communityTranscript: COIL: Yes. I'm just trying to think of a transition. What are the different roles you've played at NIU?
PHILLIPS: Well, as a police officer, you wear a million hats. One of the things that I had to adjust to becoming a Chief was-- and it was a hard transition for me. I'm an operations type person. I can do administration. I can do policies, I can write, and I can do budgets and all that. Budgets are hard. I'm not a math guy. The hard transition for me was having been a police officer my entire adult life, since I was 18 years old, was stepping back from that. It also ties into leadership, that letting the officers, letting the sergeants, letting them do their job, and giving them the tools that they need to do it, and developing them professionally so they can do it effectively. It's very rewarding to be able to do that.What I had to do was sit. I wear the uniform, I don't do much policing type. When I say policing, I struggle with the term law enforcement because to me, it's only one finger on the end of what we do. We enforce the law, but we also protect people, we solve problems. Well, there's all these aspects of what we do. As a Chief, what was hard for me in the hat was taking the police hat off and setting it aside. My job is mostly running the business of the police agency, managing the budget, making sure the training's in place, make sure there's policies. I have to handle all those things with my command staff. I'm not out patrolling the streets at night. I go out with the officers once in a while, but I'm not the guy out writing a ticket or responding to the incident that happened unless it's a major incident. That was a hard transition for me when I first arrived here.Again, I've always been an operations type of a person. I'm a doer and I'm a leader in the field. Stepping back and being an administrator was a challenge. Not that I couldn't do it but it's like being part of all the action, now I'm just the guy behind the desk. That was hard. That was another hat. As a chief, as a police officer, you have a constituency. As a police officer on patrol, I have the community in general, which is pretty much just one group for me. There's subcategories, there's students, there's professors, there's neighborhood people, there's all those things.As a Chief, the difference is, yes, you have all those different constituencies, but I also have to look at the faith based community. As a leader, I have to engage that community. I have to look at the local population versus the student population, and the different needs that present in these different groups. There's an ambassador side to what I do versus as a police officer-- well, they're ambassadors too, but I'm really responding to issues on the ground versus now, I'm dealing with the 30,000-foot stuff. I'm more of a planner, a trainer, and an administrator, which were relatively new hats for me, new roles.
- Synopsis: Changes at NIUKeywords: Changes, diverse, culutres, demographicsTranscript: COIL: In your view, has NIU changed over time? What are weaknesses and strengths you've noticed in your time here?
PHILLIPS: I think the only thing that is constant in life is change. Yes, NIU's changed. It's changed since I've been here. I've changed. One of the things is that when I came here from the city, I was tone deaf to some things. Having come from that-- not that we're not diverse, we're diverse here, we have a pretty diverse-- well, especially on campus, we're getting there. I've always been in diverse environments. This is probably, for me, the least diverse environment that I've ever lived in. My wife, Nan, she's Asian. She's Thai. There's not many Thai people out here, so adjusting culturally was a change for me, and for her, and for my family.I think NIU's changed in the sense that it's some good. I think that the President and the senior leadership are always trying to adapt with changing environments. Little things like, I feel like NIU's starting to catch up with online education, which I didn't understand that was really not happening out here when I first got here in 2013. I'm like, "Wow. Look at these other universities, that's where we're going, either traditional college, or here in class, online education or hybrid where it's a mix."I think educationally, higher ed. is changing or education in general. I think NIU's starting to move in that direction. That's a good thing. If you looked at it from a bad perspective, we're probably maybe a little behind the curve, but we're getting there, the intent’s to improve in that area. I think that in light of recent history in Illinois, it's been extremely challenging for institutes of higher ed. across the state.We went through a two-year budget stalemate, where basically the previous governor-- there was nothing. All of a sudden, there was no money. How do you operate the business, and there's a business aspect of running university or even a police department, when there's no money? You have to pay people, you have to buy equipment, you have to do all these things. It was challenging times for the university and I think that we're still recovering from that. We're adapting to changing demographics, different class sizes, different demographics of students and being able to adapt to those needs, is a change that's ongoing.Going back to my days when I learned it in Central America, some do better with change than others. I think we're definitely making progress in that area, but there's always room for improvement. If I'm not hitting your points, you got to tell me.
PHILLIPS: I'm trying my best.
- Synopsis: Feburary 14, 2008 Shooting at NIUKeywords: school shooting, training, Columbine shootingTranscript: COIL: Yes, you're doing good. How has the 2008 shooting continued to affect the experience of campus police officers?
PHILLIPS: Well, you have some good questions. Again, I was at UIC in 2008. I remember that day, even though I'd never been here, because that is something that, again, going back to what I described about taking it personal, my goal on that campus was, "Not here. Not on my watch," to state a cliche. For me personally, going back years before that, really the proliferation and the advancement of university policing came along with tragedy.If you go back in history to campus policing, they started off security guard-ish, but really what I saw was a major shift in responsibilities and training after Columbine. When Columbine happened, mindsets, that's where the really school shootings took off. Mindsets started changing. It was shortly after that time that my leadership at UIC said, " Hey, we need to start training for this," and having experience in the military, I was selected as one of those trainers.Over the next 10 years after Columbine, I was a trainer and I was on the cutting edge of this in the Chicago area for training school police how to respond to active shooters and really overcoming the mindset. The old mindset was surround the place and wait for SWAT. That changed with Columbine. Getting police officers to understand that they've got to go in and deal with it.2008 comes and it happens out here. I was not aware of the impact of that, how deep it was, not just in the community, but in the agency. Five years later, I roll in as the Chief. Again, not understanding the impact that it had on NIU, and it still has to this day. Also, it caught me off-guard understanding the impact it had inside the agency. I work along some side officers that were there that day that responded.One of the things that I'm very proud of is that we have a police officer, young lady named Maria Christiansen, who was a student and that was shot that day. Not only has this young lady recovered, she eventually became one of our officers, and she is one of our lead instructors for ALICE, which is an acronym for basically Run, Hide, and Fight. She teaches people what to do in those situations.Again, going back to when I arrived here, when I understood the impact on the community, I said, "I have to do a couple of things." I said, "I have to make sure that I double down on whatever training they're doing. I have to make sure they're equipped." Equipping our officers with long guns, with riffles. They didn't have them. I was dumbfounded by that. I'm like, "Hey, we had a shooting here in 2008." I didn't blame it, or point fingers, or make excuses, I just said, "We need to get them and we need to train them," and now they have them. Making sure that they're getting the ground level training and, again, doubling down on the assets we already had.One of the things that I was impressed with when I arrived here was that, all of our officers are trained as EMTs. I had never been around a police agency like that. Then we have police officers that are trained paramedics. We have one on duty 24/7. Again, I didn't understand that at first. I understood why we had it in response to 2008, but then I didn't understand the value of it until I started seeing my officers literally save lives, and deliver babies, and do all these amazing stuff because they were medically trained. I said, "We will never get rid of that program. We will never." I always joke with them, I'm like, "When I drop, I want you there with me," because they're all trained. [laughs]I had to look at it in a larger scale for the campus, because while students may have transitioned between 2008 to 2013, many of them were gone. There were still a lot that were here, but there's faculty and staff. There was a lot of PTSD in the community over this event. It's not that I was insensitive to it, I just wasn't ready for it. I said, "How do I engage in this as a Chief," because I had a lot of people coming to me asking what you're asking now.I said, "What I need to do is, I need to get all the first responders together, and I need to do something that will build teamwork, and at the same time, have an open dialogue about what happened in 2008, tactically, from my first responder perspective. We need to practice, so we can't bury our head in the sand and say this didn't happen. We need to be going back to me being passionate about it. We need to be prepared so that it doesn't happen again. That if it does, we're going to be on our game." Not that we weren't that day, but I wanted to make sure we were in 2013.In 2014, I put together what they call a full-scale exercise. You can google it and find it if you want. It was pretty controversial, at least not publicly, but in the inner circles among the staff and faculties. What we did, it was basically a big training exercise and it was active shooter. I had people not wanting this to happen and getting phone calls and saying they were worried about the impact, and how it would be perceived, and it's going to rip the scab off on 2008. I said, "No, I see it as part of healing."What I was telling the officers and the firemen when we did this, I said, "We're do this." Nothing was scripted per se. They would have to respond. It was a scenario situation for this. I think, "Let's win this one," meaning, I think we won in 2008 in many ways. There were lives saved, but let's win this meaning, we're not going to bury our heads in the sand here, we're going to prep ourselves and we're going to be prepared. Let's all come together as a family, meaning first responders, meaning students, meaning faculty, meaning staff, and let's prepare and we did.I dare say, and I don't take credit because all I did was say, "Let's do it," and then my staff were all the planners and doers, and they far exceeded anything I thought they would do. These were things I was doing on a much smaller scale at University of Illinois. When I brought this out here, my staff just blew me out the water. They were just wow. Then we came back in 2015 and we did it again. This time we did a bomb threat scenario at the Convocation Center, an explosion.We brought in agencies from four counties, FBI. We really had this huge response. We integrated senior leadership into it and said, "Here is this situation, what do we do?" It's an uncomfortable situation. It's uncomfortable. It's one of the things people don't want to talk about or deal with, but when it's all said and done, everyone is like, "That was good." Always thinking about preventative measures. I tried to get as much publicity behind it as I could because, one, I try to look at the world in my job through several different lenses.Again, I'm a first generation college student. I'm a parent of a college student, so I look at it through dad's eyes, I look at it through the students eyes, I try to look at it through the administrator's eyes, I look at it as the cops eyes. I try to always look at every situation like that. I think by bringing us together and doing those big exercises, and we haven't done anything that big since 2015, but we still train every year, we still try to get together every year. I think just not denying it, by facing it basically, again, not to sound corny, but facing evil, facing these situations and preparing for them sends a message that if someone's thinking about something crazy, not here. Not on our watch.
- Synopsis: Challenges faced as ChiefKeywords: Difficult, growth, DeKalb, Gene LoweryTranscript: COIL: Was that one of your biggest challenges as Police Chief?
PHILLIPS: You mean dealing with 2008's, or the exercise, or the- [crosstalk]?
COIL: I phrased this wrong; I mean what have been your biggest challenges or were those among them?
PHILLIPS: I think it was. No, let me go back. Some of the things that I thought were going to be really difficult were not. Some of them that I thought would be, "This would be okay," I'm still working on. One of the things that when I arrived here, there was some tension between the agencies. The police agencies as in Dekalb had some history. At the time, Dekalb had a brand new police Chief, he's name was Gene Lowery, he just retired maybe a few months ago. I'd never met the man in my life. I came and all over sudden there's two Chiefs. It's tough being a Chief in the middle of a city where there's a Chief.It hasn't been difficult for me because, again, I'm here as a police officer. I check my ego at the door. At the end of the day, I know what I am and I know what I'm here to do, protect students. When I came in, there was strained relationships, town-gown. I don't know if you've ever heard that phrase, but town-gown, that's a phrase that is attributed to tension between colleges or universities and the local municipality. It's not strictly related to policing, it’s just the town, meaning the town and the gown, meaning the graduation gown.There's some of that here. Again, I was not prepared for that because in Chicago, at the university, were the guppy in the big sea. There's no town-gown, you're just you're there. That I thought was going to be a challenge for me. It was easy. I went and met Chief Lowery and I said, "Hey, let's go to lunch." We had lunch and we were driving around. He was showing me Greek Road.That's when we really started what we call a co-policing or collaborative policing, where you can't have officers patrol off campus. That was, again, organic for me because in Chicago, there's not really a lot of campus boundaries around UIC. We were overlapped in Chicago and Cook County and we were all in the same area. It was a new thing out here. I was like, "This is easy."I remember telling Chief Lowery, when I met him, I said, "Hey, here's the deal man. I don't know what the last guys were about, but we're both kind of new at this. We don't have to like each other, and we don't even have to be friends, but we're neighbors. We always got to let our kids play in the backyard together." By that, that was a metaphor to say, "No matter whether we personally like each other, I have this group of officers and you have this group of officers, and we have a mission here. By keeping the students safe, we're keeping Dekalb safe and vice versa. Let's check our egos at the door and let's work together."I think I caught him off guard with that. He was like, "Wow, yes, that sounds great." "I really am. I try to be the person that you're talking to right now. This is me. I'm a guy who just happens to be a police Chief that takes his job serious." I think he was not expecting me to be that way because sometimes, not that police officers have egos, but sometimes they have egos and some of it's ingrained and some of it comes with the profession or whatever, but I've just never had that attitude, I've been grateful for everything I've had in my life. Going back to that kid with nothing to eat in Flint, Michigan, I'm grateful for every day and everything I have.Having a human approach to the profession and to other people, to me has gone a long way. Knocking down some of those barriers between the town-gown was easy. What I found was challenging was leading a police agency. I never thought it would be this hard. I talked to a little bit about that earlier, about transitioning from really just being the police officer to actually being the CEO or the guy that runs the organization. It's challenging. Leadership is not about giving orders and people following them, it's about influence. I have the official authority as a Chief with the stars and the badge and the guy who is the boss. People don't follow that. People follow the leadership. You have to influence people and you have to convince them to do the right thing because it's in their best interest, not because they have to, to get a paycheck.That is a challenge. It's been a challenge of my entire career and it gets harder the higher you go. Internally, that's been a challenge for me. I have a high standard, even though I don't think I do. If you ask my staff and my officers, I've considered myself an average cop, a little bit above average, and I have a standard that I set for myself. If you work for me, you have to at least meet where I'm at. Some people struggle with that, but I'm not going to compromise my standard.It all goes back to, again, it sounds cliché or corny, but going back to my own personal experience of, "I'm going to work at this university because I need an education because education means something, and my kids are going to get an education. While they're here, I don't want them to have to worry about getting robbed or an active shooter. I want them to go in, expand their mind, do projects like this and go out and change the world." Those have been the big challenges for me, but it's been so rewarding in so many ways.
- Synopsis: Stories of Diane Palma and Bob PfeifferKeywords: History, Diane Palma, Bob Pfeiffer, department, NIU, Police, heroesTranscript: COIL: Can you share a story about an experience or an event from your time at NIU that stands out in your memory?
PHILLIPS: Absolutely. This ties into history. I know I'm supposed to talk about myself, but one of the things that has been very enjoyable for me was going back to I love the police. I say that because people need to hear it. I don't need to hear it, but these people put their life on the line every day and it's a thankless job, so I try to tell them every chance I get. It can turn you bitter and cynical, your whole life, dealing with other people's problems. That's what we do.One of the things I noticed when I came in here was, just like NIU, NIU Police Department has a very rich history that nobody knew about. I walked into the police station when I first got there and I didn't see what you normally see in police departments. Usually, if you go any police department, you'll see some community stuff on the wall and all that, and you'll see things like softball trophies. I didn't see any of that. I didn't see any photographs of anything on the walls. It was all like this. I said, "What's going on?"There was an officer and he's still there. I don't think he did the interview, but I was emailing back and forth. His name's Officer Mark Rocker 40 . He's been here about 25 years. Went to school here, stayed and became an officer. Really great guy. He is the unofficial department historian. When I went to him I said, "Hey man, where's all this stuff." He's like, "Yes, it's just--" Whatever. They didn't have it. I made it my mission to start learning about the Department History. If you go to our website, there's a page on there that says like, "our timeline or history." I can talk about the great stuff that I've done, I'm the Chief and all that, but our history is very rich.Two points I want to tell you and I want to tell you about the person, one of the best memories I'll have of this place. NIU had the first female university police officer in the State of Illinois in 1971. Her name was Diane Palma. You can read about her on our website. To me, I thought nobody knew that. I'm trying to think how I stumbled on that fact. Now I remember. There's a picture on our walls going on. Now you see you see pictures. You walk into our lobby, you'll see a diaspora of-- I found all these pictures and they were all little eight by tens of staged pictures of the police officers through the years, dating back to the '50s and '60. I said, "Blow those things up and we're going to put them on the wall, I want our history in there."In the process of that, on eBay, I stumbled up this old newspaper photograph, an eight by 10 of Diane. In the bottom, it says something about it's 1971 and that she's the first police officer. I still hadn't been able to find her, but I bought that photograph. I'm still researching about Diane. In the process of that, Officer Rocker 40 says, "This is a bunch of retirees. I tried to connect you ladies with one of them. A local gentleman, I don't know if you've interviewed him yet, and I've drawn a blank on his name.My first couple of years here, these officers from 10, 20, 30 years ago wanted to meet the new Chief. I'm sure, I bring him by, "Hey, how you doing?" They would tell me to share their memories. He said, "Hey, there's a guy named Bob Pfeiffer who wants to meet you." "Bring him by". If you can just give me five minutes or less, I want to tell you about this man, because he's incredible. I say this all the time. I've been around leaders, I've been around generals, and cops, and presidents, and I've been around a lot of people, important people.I can count my heroes on one hand, Bob Pfeiffer's, one of them. He was a little old NIU cop. Bob Pfeiffer was born in North Carolina, back in segregation and all that stuff. He's African-American, would join the army and went to Vietnam in the early '60s. Served his time in Vietnam. He was a military policeman like me, so I'm a little biased. Gets out, moves to DeKalb, his mom and dad pass away, he's still young man, moves DeKalb to live with an aunt and tried to go to school. He ends up getting hired as an NIU police officer in '68, the year I was born.He is the first African-American police officer in the County. He's the first black cop in DeKalb County in 1968, if you can imagine that and he's at NIU. Nobody knew this. The people that did know it was like, “Eh, “Eh, yeah.” There were a couple people that knew. I said, "Why are we not acknowledging this," but it gets better. This guy is one of the toughest dudes I ever met. I meet him and he's the most humblest man, the nicest soft-spoken, you'd never think this guy was a cop. I meet him. He's just real nice.I meet him probably four years ago. He's in his 70s. He's older, he's retired, still lives locally, alone. He sits down with me and he's talking to me, and he says, "I got shot in the face."I'm like, "What?" He tells me the story, in 1973, he's here and he's on patrol. Him and another officer respond to Stevenson Towers, I think it was, for somebody having a mental breakdown, a student. Top floor of Stevenson, they're trying to get on the roof and they're nude. They go there and they try to restrain this young man. He's fighting with them. He takes the other officer, grabs his gun and it's an old leather holster, old revolver, rips it out of the holster.As they're falling, Bob falls back and it hits his head on the wall and he is sitting as this happens. The gun comes out and he's this close to the guy. He gets the other officer's gun and he points it point blank, right in his face to shoot him in the face. As he pulls that trigger, Bob moves his head and that bullet hits the wall behind him and the shrapnel comes out and it takes-- Bob's eye is gone. It takes his eyeball out. They catch the guy, they restrain them, they get all this, they'd take Bob to the hospital.I was able to find, doing a little bit of research in the newspapers, there was an article where they interviewed Bob and in the 70s, and he's like-- You think that guy would be enraged. He's like, "The guy, I hope he's okay." He's the guy that shot him. He lost his eye. I'm sitting here listening to this man telling me the first black cop in DeKalb County at NIU in the 60s. He's telling me about how he got his eye shot out and he's got a glass eye. This is the part that's unheard of, he came back to work and he worked another 20 years as a police officer and retired from NIU. That dude's my hero. That dude came back and did it for another 25 years. I get emotional just talking about him.We became friends and he lived in suburban estates. Then he ended up in a home. He fell and I would go and check on him, bring him food, and he passed away last year. It was difficult for me. He was my friend. I would say if there was one memory that I'll take with me when I leave here, it's my friend Bob. Thanks for letting me share that.
- Synopsis: Advice for newcomers to NIUKeywords: First time, alumi, past, 125th anniversaryTranscript: COIL: Of course. What would you tell someone like yourself coming down at NIU for the first time in 2019? What do you want them to know or understand about the past?
PHILLIPS: Trying not to quote a movie. NIU’s past, Dekalb’s past is what we are, you can't deny that, but it shouldn't define where we're going. NIU's changing, there's no doubt that we got to adapt to that, higher Ed's changing, the community's changing. That's not always bad. Again, change is inevitable. I have found that most of the time it's for the good, even if it doesn't feel like it at the time. Bad things happen, and I always say that something always good comes out of even the bad.Bob passed away, but his legacy lives on in me and it lives in that department. We have a roll call room where we do our briefings, like you see on TV, all the cops come in and be safe out there. I had the privilege of naming that roll call room, the Bob Pfeiffer room. Bob's from the past, but his legacy carries on in so many ways in where we're at today as a police agency.I have the most diverse police agency in this County. I inherited that, but I proactively try to keep that. You look at how policing is changing. We're trying to attract more female officers. It's just been always been a challenge. Diverse officers, my deputy Chief is Indian. He was the first American Indian police officer I ever met. We have officers that are-- we had one that was Pakistani, Hispanic, African-American. That is part of where we're going as society, and is where we're going as a County, and where we're going as an institution.When people come in here, whether they're from Dixon, or from Elgin, or from Nicaragua, you have to be able to go with the flow, engage change, and not be afraid of it. Come out of your box, just like that kid in central America when he says, "I'm going on, I'm going to check this out." You have to be able to do that. I think sometimes, even people that come here from Chicago, they move out here from Chicago, like me, and they'll have expectations and they'll have a predisposition about what it's going to be like out here. You can look at it in a negative way or a positive way.Even if you live in a Chicago neighborhood, you still live in that box in the city. That's the only world you know. While you may have a broader perspective on the world by living in a bigger environment, that doesn't negate the way it is out here. You have to embrace our community, you have to bring your assets with you, bring what you have to the table. Also, never think you're too smart you can't learn something even from someone that others may consider simple country people. My mom was a simple country girl and I learned more lessons from her than I could ever learn from anyone else.
COIL: Last question. What else do you think deserves attention during this 125th anniversary?
PHILLIPS: Well, that's the toughest question. When you say what else, I don't know really what you've covered. Aside from what I've shared with you, I would say, if you haven't done it, you may want to think about it. If you have time to adapt, find, put a focus on students. Meaning, you're here today, find somebody, an alumni that was a student here in the '90s, in the '80s, and the '70s and see how far you can go. Make it your goal to find that.“I graduated—“ and I've met them, “I went to NIU in 1952”. I can't recall the person off the top of my head, but they're out there still. Find that person that went to school here before any of us were alive and see what they can share with you, because somewhere in there, there's going to be an incredible story like Bob Pfeiffer's. Are you engaging students, alum back there?
PHILLIPS: I'd say chiefs come and go, students come and go, but that narrative that you're capturing, it'd be interesting to see how it's the same and how it's different.
COIL: Okay. Yes.
PHILLIPS: All right.