Leading a law enforcement agency responsible for thousands of students, faculty and staff is a challenge in ordinary times. In extraordinary times like these, it would seem an almost insurmountable task. But NIU Police Chief Thomas Phillips, M.P.A. ’16, has led the University’s Department of Police and Public Safety during a global pandemic with a healthy dose of partnership-building and preparation.
Phillips described the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the campus community as having “created a new dynamic for everyone.” This includes changes big and small.
“We have implemented new strategies to reduce the risk of exposure for our first responders and to the community,” he said. “Small measures can have a big impact, such as taking non-emergency reports over the phone, creating social-distancing inside the police facility, and conducting meetings using online platforms.”
Phillips understands that technology will help the department continue to serve and protect the campus community.
“One of the biggest changes (and challenges) for all of us at NIU Police and Public Safety has been the social-distancing from the people we serve and protect,” he said. “Some of the ways that we traditionally interact with our students is through our safety services, community education and personal safety training. We are currently exploring ways to leverage technology to continue delivering these types of educational seminars to stay connected to our students.”
As the police chief, Phillips’ top priority is to ensure that the department staff is trained and equipped to protect themselves and the campus community. “This time of pandemic is no exception, even though it has created new and unexpected challenges,” he said.
“We recently equipped all of our staff with protective personal equipment and provided everyone with the latest training and guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Center for Disease Control,” Phillips said. “Additionally, NIU has an Emergency Operations Plan in place, and we have worked closely with President Freeman and her senior leadership team to ensure a continuity of University operations while ensuring a safe campus.”
“Part of that collaboration,” Phillips said, “is ongoing communications and partnership with local first responder and public health organizations in an effort to lessen the impact of COVID-19 in the greater DeKalb community.”
Phillips thanks the first responders and medical personnel that are on the front lines fighting the virus and helping their community every hour of every day.
“I have the utmost respect for these heroes and value the hard work being done to keep us healthy and safe,” he said.
Phillips said that safety and security are shared responsibilities within the community and that the COVID-19 situation is “a good example of the Huskie community coming together to overcome adversity.”
“Police work is ‘predictably unpredictable,’ meaning that there is a science and art to protecting the public,” Phillips said. “We proactively use crime data—a science—to reduce crime. However, that work must be balanced with the creativity of crime prevention education and the meaningful social interactions of community engagement—an art—to create a safe learning and living environment.”
“Blending the strength of knowledge within the scientific community and our collective efforts to practice social-distancing and other hygiene methods will help intensify the ability to ultimately stop the virus and its effects,” Phillips suggested.
“With this new challenge, I am appreciative that the greatest scientists and medical experts from around the globe are using science to find a solution to COVID-19,” he said. “Yet it is going to take all of us to ‘bend the curve’ to keep us safe. We can all have an impact on this health crisis by practicing good personal hygiene and social-distancing.”
In addition to first responders and medical personnel, Phillips also thanks the University for its support of the department during this time.
“I also want to express my gratitude to the University community, including our alumni for their kind words of support and generosity during this challenging time,” he said. “I am so very proud to be part of the Huskie family.”