The ASU police department announced Friday interim Police Chief Michael L. Thompson, who had been the acting police chief since July, has been appointed as the new permanent chief.
ASU Executive Vice President, Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Morgan R. Olsen announced the decision to the ASU community after what he called "an extensive search," according to a press release.
“I am confident that Chief Thompson will continue ASUPD’s strong tradition of serving and protecting the diverse ASU community, while enhancing communication with students, faculty and staff across all ASU campuses,” Olsen said in the press release.
Thompson served with the Mesa police department for more than 20 years as a field officer and member of the incident response team before he became part of the ASU police force, Olsen said.
While in the Mesa Police Department, Thompson worked in a variety of different situations, including detective work for property crimes and crimes involving people, such as aggravated assault and kidnapping.
After being promoted to sergeant, he worked as a bicycle sergeant, a jail sergeant and a school resource officer supervisor, which is where he got his passion for education, Thompson said.
Thompson said he began his career working in Mesa for the city’s engineering department. He said he decided that working a desk job was not for him and that he felt like police work was his way of giving back to the community.
“We were always in awe when the police came into the neighborhood,” Thompson said. “It was just a noble career.”
Thompson also holds two graduate degrees, both from NAU, Olsen said.
Despite Thompson acting as Chief of Police for the past four months, the ASU police department is expecting some changes and new initiatives with the announcement, said ASU police department spokesman Sgt. Daniel Macias.
“I think that as an acting chief, you can’t initiate as much change as you might want to,” Macias said. “But now that it is permanent, he can move forward with what he sees as his vision for a direction for the department.”
Thompson agreed and said that even though he had been serving as interim chief for a while, he now has the ability to institute policies and changes that he could not as an interim.
"When you're in an interim position, you're limited as to what you can do," he said. "You don't want to make big sweeping changes for worry that someone else will come in with their own ideas. It's a little bit of a different mindset now."
Thompson’s new position comes in a time ASU police have been under public scrutiny. The department has been criticized for alleged brutality after a video of an officer tackling ASU professor Ersula Ore while attempting to arrest her was made public.
Concerns that the department was understaffed also emerged this semester. In September, ASU announced it was in the process of adding 15 new officers and 30 new police aides to help bolster the department’s numbers.
Thompson said as chief, he plans to address these issues by trying to change the culture of the department.
He said he plans to try to create an open dialogue between the community and police officers but understands that some citizens may be skeptical of officers at first.
"We want to further the engagement with the community," he said. "I would like for the department to host an open house some time where students and the community can come and see the building and all of the resources that are there to serve you. I know that many people have probably never been inside the building before, and probably haven't wanted to. I think this would open their eyes a bit if we open ourselves up to the public."
Thompson said he would also like to open the lines of communication with parents of students who may be concerned about safety and security while at school. He said fostering an environment with open communication is the key to feeling secure with a decision to send a student to ASU.
"I have my own children attend school at ASU, so I have a vested interest in keeping campus safe," Thompson said. "I love working at ASU; college students are intelligent. They need to be able to trust us and the more they see transparency, the more comfortable they will feel. I think that the more accessible we are, the more we are doing our job of providing a safe public environment."
Thompson said through building a relationship with the community, the perceptions of the police force can begin to change around campus.
"The more we interact with and engage the community, the more they will understand that we have the same goal," Thompson said. "They might not like that they get a ticket, but they will understand the reasoning better."
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