New U of U police chief: ‘We will work each day to be better than the day prior’

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The University of Utah announced a new police chief will head the Department of Public Safety.

Rodney Chatman, a current executive director of public safety and chief of police at the University of Dayton in Ohio, will begin his new role at the U on February 17.

Chatman is coming in at a time when fears of campus safety are at a high. But he said he’s ready to create an environment of accountability, transparency, and safety for students and faculty.

“We will work each day to be better than the day prior,” Chatman said.  

In a three-year time period, the U had three on-campus student deaths.

Katherine Peralta was killed by her husband in a murder-suicide in 2016.

Chenwei Guo was killed when a man shot him in an attempt to steal his car in 2017.

And Lauren McCluskey’s ex-boyfriend fatally shot her outside of her dorm in 2018.

McCluskey repeatedly contacted campus police to report her concerns, but her parents said campus police did not take her concerns seriously – until it was too late.

Throughout it all, students have raised their voices – worried that their campus is not safe, and administrators are not doing enough.

The year following McCluskey’s death, former police chief Dale Brophy retired.

And now, nearly three months later, the university announced Chatman’s soon-to-be arrival.

“We will build advocates one day at a time, and any past hurt or present hurts, we will be mitigating that one student at a time, one faculty member at a time and one staff member at a time,” Chatman said about past situations.

Along with 30 years of experience in municipal and university police departments, Chatman said he brings with him a personal philosophy that a person can’t effectively police a community that one is not a part of.

“It means being transparent,” Chatman said. “So, the student questions and concerns, we’re going to create opportunities for them to be able to ask tough questions. We’re going to create opportunities for them to recognize success and movements in the right direction and get a chance to celebrate those together.”

He said he has ideas of how to improve the U community, however, if they do not align with the voice of the students, “then we’re missing the mark.”

“When you connect with students and they know that you see them, you see them where they are, and you’re willing to listen to them, that makes the campus safe,” Chatman said, “because then when the suspicious circumstance arises, they feel comfortable picking up the phone and reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, I don’t know what this means, but I would like to share with you something that I’m seeing, something that’s concerning to me.’”

Chatman said he is honored for the opportunity to join and serve the Ute family.

ABC4 News reached out to Lauren McCluskey’s family for a statement. McCluskey’s family is active in voicing their concerns about the Utah school following the death of their daughter.

We hope that Mr. Chatman vigorously addresses the need to transform the climate in the campus police department from the complacency that contributed to my daughter’s murder to full and urgent engagement of women in need, especially those at risk for relationship violence. We also expect for the University of Utah to provide a clear explanation of the selection criteria that resulted in not selecting the female candidate when there have been serious problems in how women are treated by the campus police. Female officers are underrepresented at the University of Utah, and studies have shown that increases in female officer shares are followed by significant reductions in rates of intimate partner homicide and non-fatal domestic violence.

Jill McCluskey

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