Q&A with new UIPD Police Chief Alice Cary

Alice Cary started in her new role as the Executive Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police at the University of Illinois Police Department in July 2020. As she gets to know our campus, we wanted to take some time to offer our community members a chance to get to know a little bit about her. We had a few questions for her (and K9 Archie!), and we are looking forward to providing more opportunities to get to know her and her take on modern policing issues.

First, please just tell us a bit about yourself. Where have you been, what has your experience in policing been like, and what do you do when you are outside of working hours?

My career has expanded over 34 years. I am a native of Flint, Michigan, and started my career as a police officer in Buena Vista Township in Saginaw, Michigan. After spending 11 years working in Michigan, my family and I moved to Riverton, Wyoming, and began work on the Wind River Reservation. I worked as a deputy sheriff, drug task force officer and state trooper in and around the reservation for 12 years. During my time in Wyoming, I had interest in higher education policing; however, the opportunity to follow this interest was very limited in Wyoming with only one university in the state. Eventually, I left Wyoming and began work as a Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault detective for the Lane County District Attorney’s Office, in Eugene, Oregon, home to the University of Oregon. You can see where I am going with this – higher education opportunity was within reach in Oregon. After a few years, The University of Oregon gave me the opportunity to fulfill my interest in higher education law enforcement. I began as a sergeant and worked my way up to captain of patrol operations. This opportunity was something that prepared me for life as a Chief of Police (another aspiring goal established very early in my career).  When the University of Maryland, Baltimore reached out to me about a position as Chief there, I found great interest in this opportunity and rose to the challenge. I have historically worked in diverse cultures, beginning in Saginaw, Michigan, spending 12 years on the Wind River Reservation, and now at an urban campus in downtown Baltimore. What better experience in policing could someone ask for! Collectively, my entire, well-versed career prepared me for my new role as Executive Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police at the University of Illinois Police Department. I looked at this opportunity as a once in a career opportunity and I am very blessed to be here to lead such an exceptional, progressive and professional agency.

When I am not working, I love adventure. My husband and I love to ride motorcycles, go boating, travel (especially to scuba diving destinations…. we both love to dive) and simply spending time at home with Archie, our 2 greyhounds and 2 cats (we have no grandchildren yet), or doing yard work on our 8 acres.

And of course, tell us about K9 Archie! Who is Archie, and where are we most likely to see him on campus?

Archie and I were introduced to one another in December 2019 at the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office (Brevard County, Florida) Paws and Stripes College, he was just over a year old. I introduced the Comfort K9 program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore with our first Comfort K9, Lexi. She came from the Paws and Stripes program and was so successful on campus I decided to add another K9 to help with all the engagement activities. So, who is Archie? Archie is a 2-year-old mixed breed (it’s anyone’s guess, but he may be retriever and Australian Shepard mix) from the Bahamas. They call mixed breed strays “Potcakes” there. Archie was in the shelter there when Hurricane Dorian hit the island. As the story goes, a 10-foot tidal wave hit the animal shelter, killing over 200 animals. Archie was one of approximately 95 other animals who survived by swimming until rescued. His journey took him to Halo animal rescue near Brevard County, where he was selected to participate in the Paws and Stripes program. This program utilizes shelter dogs who are trained my inmates at the detention center for 10 weeks and donated to law enforcement agencies and veterans across the county as therapy dogs. I was matched with Archie after applying to the program and trained with him for 40 hours at the college. At the end of the training, Archie and I were evaluated and tested. He passed with flying colors to become a certified Law Enforcement Therapy dog (Comfort K9).

You’ll see Archie at events, meetings and simply walking across campus. More so once the pandemic loosens its grip on our outreach and engagement activities.

What drew you to this new opportunity at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. What has been your favorite part so far?

This was a once in a career opportunity to lead an exceptional agency at a major Big Ten university with such a track record for innovation and history being one of the best institutions in the nation. There were also additional factors which helped influence my decision. Getting back closer to my family in Michigan and my husband’s family in Wisconsin was one. Being a Midwesterner true and true, this is home for me.

The best part for me is the accepting warm welcome I have received from not only the university but the community as well.

UIPD as a department acknowledges that, historically, police departments across the country have had a problematic relationship with communities of color, and Black communities in particular. We know that we have room for improvement ourselves. What are your plans moving forward to address the concerns that our community members are voicing?

I am an avid supporter of the six pillars of 21st Century Policing, the very first of which is building trust and legitimacy. Policing today requires a different kind of officer or deputy – one who is flexible and adaptive to the needs of their communities. One who finds meaning in their work through helping – truly helping – the people in our communities who are most in need.

I am creating Community Outreach and Support Team (C.O.A.S.T.) which is a specialized unit for community policing for student support and education. C.O.A.S.T. also partners with community members to address issues and concerns in the community adjacent to campus. Community resources are better directed to address problems and concerns. An objective of C.O.A.S.T. program is to improve and refine the interaction between the agency and the campus community it serves.

Voices will not only be heard, but action will follow those voices to build relationships especially as it relates to communities of color.

This year, the idea of public safety became much larger than just UIPD’s law enforcement efforts. Through our Office for Campus Emergency Management, we coordinated a campuswide response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are now responsible for enforcing local ordinances dealing with social distancing and other public health mandates. How do you see UIPD fitting into this public health effort in the long-term, and what are your key takeaways through all of this?

As we know law enforcement is tasked with a wide variety of calls for service ranging from mental health assistance to changing a flat tire. The COVID pandemic is a danger to society, and it didn’t surprise me that law enforcement was at the forefront of educating and enforcing ordinances to gain compliance for mask wearing and social distancing. UIPD filled in where resources were lacking to assist public health. In the long term, UIPD will assist where we can within the scope of our duties.

This was a team effort. We all were in a position were we have never been before and one of the takeaways was knowing we played a huge role in helping to protect the innocent and reduce the spread.

What is your favorite thing about being in law enforcement? Least favorite thing?

Helping those who cannot help themselves. Law enforcement gives you the opportunity to change a life for the positive, to provide resources where there were none, and it gives you the opportunity to engage with individuals different from you so you can learn and grow.

The least favorite thing is that, at times, we are forced to see and experience society at its worst, and the disregard that some other people have for the value of human life.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role?

Connecting with the department, engaging the campus and surrounding community. Listening and learning to effect positive change. Build upon past successes and develop the future.

Have you found a favorite restaurant in town yet?

I haven’t explored any sit-down restaurants due to the pandemic so I can’t say I have a favorite… yet. But I am sure that, once the pandemic slows, I’ll get the opportunity to find that favorite restaurant.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

I am happily married and a proud mother of an exceptional son who serves in the United States Airforce as an EOD (bomb tech) Tech Sergeant.