Students on the CU campus deal with the police on almost a daily basis. The CU Police Department deals with everything from giving out nuisance party tickets to directing traffic on campus. But to many students, police officers are seen merely as the authority figures who come in to break up a party or stop a demonstration. The Campus Press sat down with CUPD Chief Joe Roy to find out about the man behind the badge.
Roy has been the chief of the CUPD since February 2005. He has been in law enforcement for 30 years. He is married and has three children.
His view on the proper behavior of police was shaped a good deal by his childhood in segregated Baton Rouge, La.
The Campus Press: What is your daily/weekly life like whenever you come into the office?
Joe Roy: You know, it pretty much flows with my schedule and my calendar. If it’s a crazy week, things can happen outside that are unpredicted and then the calendar sort of goes out the door – if there are demonstrations, if there is a major crime that needs some attention from my perspective. But in this role, there is a lot of public process that I am involved in.
CP: Such as?
JR: There is a discussion going on now that is pulled together by university council that is talking about where the new university council wants to go with FERPA controls. In other words, controls on release of information about students. And the new council has a belief that there should be more restrictions than have been historically been practiced. When you start doing those things, you impact lots and lots of groups. So there has been a committee pulled together to talk about the potential impacts and the viability of the proposals from a number of perspectives, and I got asked to sit on that committee.
CP: How does being the chief affect your personal life at home?
JR: It’s a bit more time consuming. I was in a job that was pretty involved from the program management place before I took this job. I was the director for parking and transportation. So, I had an experience running major projects and things like that. My days could get long. The police chief’s role is different in that it is highly public. Shortly after I started, which was February 2005, there were a number of incidents that happened that created for African-American students concerns about their safety on campus. What surprised me about the process that followed that was how often I was called into discussions with a variety of groups to talk about the public safety perspective, about what the police were doing. It was my first indoctrination into how broad the scope of involvement the public sees the police on having on any number of kinds of issues. I really hadn’t expected it to be that involved when I got into the job.
CP: What were some of the issues concerning African-American Students?
JR: One of the Tri-execs, Mebraht Gebre-Michael, received an e-mail. There was a student who was walking in front of Farrand and someone yelled the n-word at him. There was another student who received a letter at the UMC black student alliance office. I don’t know if it was addressed to an individual or black students. That was really threatening in its tone. Collectively, people were concerned they reflected a change in the climate here on campus that was really directed toward African-American students.
CP: Do you think that the fact that you’re an African-American had anything to do with the fact they approached you rather.
JR: Actually, the people that approached me weren’t coming to me because I was African-American. They were coming to me because I was the chief of police.
CP: So it was more as the role of the authority figure?
JR: Yes, it was the role and the place that the department has in managing public safety.
CP: What kind of experiences did you have prior to becoming chief?
JR: I am a CU alum. I was born in Illinois but lived most of my early childhood in the Deep South.
CP: Where in the Deep South?
JR: Just outside Baton Rouge, LA. So when I was down there, Jim Crow was still the law of the land and white and colored drinking fountains, white and colored restrooms, places in town I couldn’t go because I was black. My dad was a civil rights activist. I saw him get arrested trying to get my mom registered to vote. First time I ever saw dogs and water cannons unleashed on people, I was probably about six years old. He was taking me to a civil rights demonstration downtown in Baton Rouge where things were bad.
CP: Did your dad ever march with Dr. King?
JR: You know, I don’t know. My dad went to school with Medgar Evers and his brother Charles Evers. I met Charles once. Medgar was killed. My dad did a lot of stuff. He was the president of the Colorado wild league branches of the NAACP for several years. He used to do a lot of that sort of stuff. He was also a teacher, and he was a fairly outspoken individual (laughs). He taught at a historically black college at Southern University. He also taught in the black public school systems in the south. He would get himself into trouble there because he taught sciences, chemistry and biology and things like that. I remember him coming home one day with a microscope that he had been given by the school administrators to help teach. He gave it to me and said, – and I’m gonna delete his expletive – ‘it’s not much more than a toy.’ It was not fit for using to teach in school. He made that known to the administrators.
CP: Did they change that?
JR: No, they changed him. That happened to him several times (laughs). So we moved from Louisiana to Virginia, spent a little while in Alabama. We finally came to Colorado when I was just going into junior high school.
CP: So which state did your family like the most out of all those?
JR: Personally, I like Colorado. There are things I liked about all the places, but Colorado has got the best going all the way around.
CP: So what makes Colorado better than those states?
JR: Coming from where I came from, the first thing that shocked me was the standard of living for African-American people in Denver because I didn’t know prior to getting here that black people lived in communities that nice. I loved the weather; I loved the opportunity for things to do.