A cooperative force

Scott Gordon and Scott Gordon

Bruce Lewis says his first four months as chief of University Police have been a “test of leadership.”

Lewis, 41, came to Northwestern with plans to improve officer training and communication with neighbors. But some of his plans have been pushed back by the recent attacks on students and racial vandalism on campus.

“It’s unfortunate any time crime should be manifested against our community,” Lewis says. “However, the criminal element is a reality. It has tested not only our ability to respond, but likewise the community’s wherewithal to partnership with the police department and the administration.”

Still, Lewis says these events will improve UP’s relationship with Evanston Police Department and the community as a whole.

“While these crimes are negative events, they have allowed for positive experience with regard to critical-incident management and community mobilization,” he says. “I am pleased on both fronts.”

Though he is new to NU, Lewis has been a part of law enforcement for more than two decades. He served as a student patrol officer while in school at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He then served for eight years as a patrol officer, narcotics investigator and internal affairs investigator with the Lafayette Police Department.

After earning graduate degrees in criminal justice and public administration, Lewis served as chief of police at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., and then at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. In July, after serving for almost four years as the chief of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s police force — the largest university police department in the state — Lewis became chief of UP, replacing the retiring Saul Chafin.

When at UIC, Lewis says he focused on building a strong relationship with Chicago Police Department through social events and joint training programs. He arranged for some of his officers to attend the city department’s detective school, and last year Chicago officers invited 25 UIC officers to accompany them to Washington to help control a protest against the World Trade Organization.

Lewis also was chief of UIC police in 2002 when the department conducted a stakeout that resulted in the arrest of Joseph Konopka, a terrorist known as “Dr. Chaos.” After the arrest investigators discovered Konopka had been storing explosives and cyanide in Chicago Transit Authority subway tunnels, according to the May/June 2002 issue of the Campus Law Enforcement Journal.

“That’s what I’m most proud about,” Lewis says. “We were able to work together in a coordinated way to resolve an issue that threatened the city of Chicago and our community.”

Lieutenant George Ruckrich of UIC police says in addition to his administrative achievements, Lewis also was open to the suggestions and concerns of everyone in the department.

“Chief Lewis is very personable,” Ruckrich says. “He wasn’t condescending to the rank and file.”

Some of his current colleagues also praises Lewis’ work. Mary Desler, assistant vice president for student affairs, says the chief “knows what he’s doing.”

“I am so impressed with him,” Desler says. “In his four months here, bless his heart, he has faced some of the biggest challenges that a UP chief can possibly face.”

Assistant Chief Daniel McAleer of UP says he thinks Lewis will be able to improve the department.

“We’ve learned a lot so far,” McAleer says.

Lewis says the NU and Evanston communities have a “willingness to address the real work” of confronting crime. He praises students who attended a rally at The Rock about two weeks ago and says he is also working with residents who have complained about student misconduct.

When addressing resident complaints, Lewis says he wants to be careful to not present students as out of control.

“It’s only a few of our students who are manifesting behaviors of disrespect,” he says. “99 percent of our students are good community members.”

In the future, Lewis says, he would like to learn the strengths and weaknesses of his department, improve UP’s facilities and “see the department maintain its integral role in the education process.” He also would like to see continued cooperation between UP and EPD.

In response to the incidents of bias on campus, Lewis has arranged for several UP officers to receive special “hate-crime training” from the Anti-Defamation League in December or January. He says the training will help officers handling such crimes to be more “empathetic” toward victims.

UP and EPD are working “very closely” to keep the area around campus safe, Lewis says. “These crises have a way of galvanizing unity within the law-enforcement community.”

The Daily’s Maridel Reyes contributed to this report.