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From terrorist attacks to stolen laptops
Police chief logs first year

By Matt Kelly

Photo by Caroline Sheen
U.Va. Police Chief Paul Norris

“I thought about some of the things I had seen in the 1960s from the civil rights demonstrations, the way some police treated the demonstrators . ... [and decided] The only way things are going to change is if people who think differently get involved.”

Paul Norris
U.Va. Police Chief

Paul Norris is settling into his job.

Norris, 54, got a baptism by fire, taking the reins as University Police Chief just weeks before terror attacks rocked New York and Washington, and generated high stress on Grounds.

The department flew into immediate action on Sept. 11, with no time for reflection. There were external communication problems and an immediate concern that people injured in the Pentagon attack would be brought to U.Va.’s Medical Center.
“We weren’t able to get through to [the Federal Emergency Management Agency]. Then the cell phone lines got tied up,” Norris said.

Immediately after the attacks, University Police went on high alert, implementing the area’s disaster plan and working 12-hour shifts, so that half the force was available at all times.

“This place is so high-profile, with all the historical sites and Monticello, with Jefferson founding the University — and then we have the Rotunda. It attracts a lot more attention to the University,” Norris said.

The long shifts lasted several weeks before reverting to eight-hour shifts. Norris increased the visibility of the police with more foot and car patrols. While he has no hard numbers, Norris believes this reduced street crime, following a national trend.
“They have done a good job of remaining alert and aware of what goes on,” Norris said of his officers.

For Norris, the attacks were an early opportunity to see his officers under pressure, as well as for them to see him in a crisis. It differed from the transition he planned, meeting individually with each officer.

U.Va. Police headquarters on Ivy Road.
U.Va. Police headquarters on Ivy Road.

Terrorist threats aside, thefts normally constitute much of the department’s investigations, from stolen student laptops to break-ins at deans’ offices. He credits his officers with “getting out and beating the bushes,” including one officer whose investigation led to several arrests in a theft case.

The University of Virginia police officers, trained at the Central Shenandoah Criminal Justice Training Academy, cooperate on many investigations with the county and city police departments.

Albemarle County Police Chief John Miller called Norris “a very good fit with the community,” and a man who stresses planning and regional cooperation.

“I’ve been very impressed with him in a short period of time,” said Miller, who has headed the county police department for 14 years.

Norris, who has spent most of the past 30 years working in campus law enforcement, started his career in 1970 at Indiana University, where a new chief was seeking to hire minorities.

U.Va. Police Department employees: 130

Officers/investigators: 60

Community service officers: 30

Health Systems security: 30

Patrols: Foot, bicycle, motor scooter, motorcycle, cruisers. Horse patrol was discontinued.

Public safety programs: up to 40

Though Norris had never considered police work, “I thought about some of the things I had seen in the 1960s from the civil rights demonstrations, the way some police treated the demonstrators who were very peaceful and watching the dogs getting set on them and the hoses,” he said. “The only way things are going to change is if people who think differently get involved and get into the system.”

After working two years, Norris attended Butler University, studying history and political science and playing football. He then returned to the Indiana University Police Department, taught at the Indiana Police Academy and spent a year as a firefighter for Bloomington township.

Norris, who promised his children he would stay in Bloomington while they were in school, rose to become Indiana University’s first black police chief. He held that rank for eight years before being lured to U.Va., where he also became the first black chief, leading a larger department at a smaller university.

Norris values learning and urges his people to continue their education. When he took over at IU, two of 12 administrators in the department had college degrees. Now, he said, the last of those officers will finish his degree in December. Education is important for police officers to be viewed as professionals, Norris said.

The job is stressful — Norris is responsible for more than 100 officers and security people — but refreshing, he said.

“Every day when I come to work, I run into something totally different. A job like this never really gets old.”

The once-adversarial relationship between students and campus police when Norris started his career has waned.

“Campus police departments have been doing community policing from the very beginning,” he said. “We are no longer the enemy.”


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