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Policing a new state

As students and faculty make their way to their classes this spring, one major figure will leave this semester.

Roger Stearns, who has been the chief of police of UTPA since April 2009, is resigning this spring. After five years with the University, he will be taking the position as the new chief of police, effective Feb. 1, 2014, for Kennesaw State University, located just 20 miles north of Atlanta in Kennesaw, Ga. Much like UTPA, KSU is going through a merger with Southern Polytechnic State University. Reasons behind Stearns’ move are the many positive opportunities that will come for Stearns at his new position.

“In considering compensation, benefits and quality of life for my family, this is a positive personal and professional move,” Stearns said. “I have the opportunity to lead a much larger police force, and I look forward to increasing services, programs and partnerships with the campus community.”

Stearns further elaborated on the personal benefits from the move.

“From a family perspective, there is a good quality of life in the area where my family and I could spend time together,” Stearns said. “The move to KSU allows my family to live in a major metropolitan area with excellent K-12 schools for my boys and greater employment opportunities for my wife.”

While it is still not clear who will be replacing Stearns, the UTPA Police Department has seen many changes under his direction. This includes, but is not limited to,  the increased use of technology, such as the MyPD app to keep students informed and the establishment of many programs and services.

Additionally, the UTPA Police Department, consisting of more than 60 employees Stearns oversaw, was one of the 25 higher education institutions recognized as a model program by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and National Crime Prevention Council in 2012.

“We became a much more proactive agency that opened its doors to a lot of partnership opportunities with the campus community,” Stearns said. “The changes I focused on in the department were leadership development, training of the staff and increasing the types and qualities of services provided.”

Stearns began his campus law enforcement career at the University of Arkansas, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in communications. Since then, he has amassed more than 20 years of campus law enforcement experience, serving the police departments of the University of Arkansas, University of Texas at Dallas and Vanderbilt University as a senior communications officer, police sergeant and police major, respectively. Additionally, Stearns is the recipient of many honors from previous positions and UTPA, such as the President’s Excellence Award and Success Profile of the Year in 2013.

Stearns said his greatest joy during his time as police chief was serving the people and seeing advances to the University.

“Seeing the University… and police department develop was my favorite part of being here,” Stearns said. “I’ve been proud of being able to be here and be a part of the progression that UTPA has made…every year that I’ve been here, the police department and University has been better than it was the year before, and I’m proud to have been able to work under the very positive leadership team here.”

Upon his exit, Stearns hopes that the relationship between the community and police department continues to flourish for mutual benefits of both parties, with programs such as the Citizens Police Academy, Law Enforcement Explorers and Community Emergency Response Team training.

“I encourage the community to continue being proactively and positively involved with the police department and our services,” Stearns said. “The more participation we have from the community, the safer our community is and the more effective we are as a law enforcement agency.”

UPDATE: According to Vice President for Business Affairs Martin Baylor, the formal search process for Stearns’ replacement will be held off due to the pending changes with the new University, UT-RGV, and until a better idea of the organizational structure for the new University is reached. Until then, Assistant Chief of Police James Loya will be interim Chief of Police in the coming days.

 

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