The final candidate for chief of the University of Kansas Public Safety Office said Friday that he’s disappointed in many community police leaders.
“(They) will talk about these transformational things and concepts of ‘We need to engage with students and talk with students’ and all this stuff,” Rodney Chatman said. “And they talk about it in a theoretical sense, but they don’t have a track record of doing the work. And it is about doing the work.”
Chatman was the last of three finalists to take over as chief of KU’s Public Safety Office after current chief Chris Keary announced internally that he planned to retire this year. Each candidate to replace Keary was asked to deliver a campus presentation on “Police Reform on a University Campus.”
Chatman also said the work is about “that moment,” which he has experienced as a parent and as a police chief: that moment when students are moving into the residence halls, and parents embrace them for the last time before they part ways. Parents aren’t thinking about study abroad opportunities or campus employment in that moment, Chatman said.
“All they’re saying, and they say it with every fiber of their being — sometimes verbal and sometimes not — is to ‘Take care of my baby,'” he said, “and that is the sum total of the work that we do.”
Chatman recently held the role of chief at the University of Utah, which currently has an interim chief in place. Prior to that, he was executive director of public safety at the University of Dayton.
Chatman appeared prepared for questions about the situation in Utah when they came up. Salt Lake City-area media has reported that a campus police officer had shown coworkers explicit photos of a student-athlete, Lauren McCluskey, who was later murdered. Chatman was hired there in early 2020 in the aftermath of that incident.
“We uncovered a very high profile incident where officers engaged in a very egregious behavior, and a supervisor did not do his role,” Chatman began. He went on to explain that he called for an independent investigation by the state.
“Once I did that, that supervisor resigned, and at the completion of the report, I found that three officers needed to be terminated. I lost trust in their ability to perform policing services in a manner that meets community expectations,” Chatman said, so he fired them. “… The very next day their attorney filed a complaint against me and said that I was not certified at the time and therefore didn’t have the requisite powers to terminate them.”
An attorney representing Chatman also told SLC media that she believed Chatman was being pushed out of his position in retaliation for his push for transparency in releasing the report from the misconduct investigation.
Speaking to reform at KU, Chatman said that as a leader, it’s his responsibility to see that officers understand that even if students are not victims of police brutality, they may feel that they’ve been talked to differently from others.
He said he has a system for supervisors to monitor officer interactions, including watching and listening to body camera recordings, to ensure officers “are addressing our community in the manner in which they should.” Officers get monthly reviews, which can lead to accolades — and that can inspire others around them to do better, as well, Chatman said.
The search committee would welcome feedback from the KU community on all three candidates via its website; however, “Due to miscommunication, recordings of candidate presentations will not be made available as previously announced.”