Rodney Chatman named Brown’s vice president for campus safety

An accomplished leader with decades of law enforcement experience in municipal and higher education settings, Chatman will direct Brown’s Department of Public Safety and oversee campus-wide safety efforts.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Rodney Chatman, a campus safety and law enforcement leader with more than three decades of experience in municipal and higher education settings, has been appointed Brown University’s vice president for campus safety.

A deeply strategic and insightful professional who has served in campus safety leadership roles at the University of Cincinnati, the University of Dayton and the University of Utah, Chatman brings a community-focused approach to law enforcement, a commitment to transparency and accountability, and a track record of building strong relationships with campus community members, including and especially those from underrepresented groups.

“As we continue to assess and strengthen campus safety practices amid the critical national debate around policing and justice, we are set to welcome a truly accomplished leader who is ideally positioned to guide this work at Brown,” said University President Christina H. Paxson. “Chief Chatman will bring not only an outstanding track record in law enforcement, but also the values, skills and experiences that will enable him to effectively engage our full community in advancing safety on campus in every aspect.”

Chatman will join Brown effective Sept. 1, 2021, in an expanded and newly elevated position that reflects the institutional-level leadership required in overseeing public safety. The top public safety role at the University previously held the position of executive director and chief of public safety. Chatman will serve as both chief of public safety for Brown and as a senior leader who plays a critical role in promoting and sustaining a community in which students, faculty and staff are treated with respect and provided equal access to employment and educational resources in a setting defined by a commitment to well-being, safety and security, Paxson said.

The Department of Public Safety at Brown is a fully functioning police department with more than 95 highly trained members and police jurisdiction on the Brown campus and adjacent streets. The department’s mission emphasizes crime prevention, problem solving and joint officer-community responsibility.

“ The recognition at Brown that safety is more complex than policing and that success in ensuring well-being takes authentic engagement across the community made it clear that joining Brown was the ideal opportunity for me. ”

Rodney Chatman Vice President for Campus Safety

Russell Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy, co-chaired the search committee to identify the campus safety vice president. He said the group prioritized finding a candidate with a breadth of experience in higher education law enforcement and a collaborative approach toward campus safety that aligned with the vice president position requirements, developed after extensive community conversation about public safety at Brown.

“Rodney brings an extensive depth of knowledge on everything from best practices for effective campus policing to Clery Act and other regulatory requirements and leadership in law enforcement,” Carey said. “Just as importantly, his values, principles and commitment to active, visible and participatory leadership on campus — and his forthright views on the need to address issues of bias in law enforcement — lined up ideally with the committee’s collective vision for Brown’s first vice president for campus safety.”

Chatman comes to Brown from the University of Utah police department, where he directed a sworn police staff of patrol officers, a community engagement team and a unit trained to respond to crimes of interpersonal violence. He revised the onboarding experience for new officers to include direct engagement with students and other stakeholders, and markedly increased the number of women and officers of color in leadership roles.

Barbara Chernow, executive vice president for finance and administration, served as co-chair of the search committee, whose 12 members included undergraduate, graduate and medical students, faculty and staff, as well as representation from the Providence community.

“Among the committee’s top priorities was a leader with a track record and inclination for developing strong partnerships across campus to collaboratively establish practices and policies for campus safety,” Chernow said. “Our experience with Rodney made clear that he is collegial in his approach and prioritizes meaningful relationships with students, faculty and staff in making strategic decisions for ensuring safety and security.”

As part of his charge, Chatman will chair a newly formed Campus Safety Leadership Council focused on aligning and improving policies and programs on campus safety — a responsibility that indicated to him during the search process that Brown’s vision for community-focused public safety matched his own approach. 

“Communities don’t want policing done to them,” Chatman said. “They want campus safety initiatives developed in partnership with them. The recognition at Brown that safety is more complex than policing and that success in ensuring well-being takes authentic engagement across the community made it clear that joining Brown was the ideal opportunity for me.”

Especially amid the national reckoning about the relationships between police and communities across the country, Chatman said he asks the officers under his command to approach their roles with an understanding that, particularly for people of color, police have often been the face of oppression.

“Most of us booked the job understanding the ‘hero’ element of serving as a police officer, but we have to understand our history and acknowledge that when we show up, we are perceived based on the real lived experiences of individuals,” he said. “When people want to defund us or question the roles that we play, we have to understand these disparate aspects of our existence as a starting point for solutions that serve communities.”

A commitment to community-centered campus safety

Before joining the University of Utah, Chatman served as executive director of public safety at the University of Dayton from 2016 to 2020, directing a staff of 25 sworn officers and implementing a set of community engagement initiatives that led to an innovation award from the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. He was elected president of the Ohio Campus Law Enforcement Association and vice president of the regional chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Eric Spina, president of the University of Dayton, said that Chatman is well positioned to lead public safety at Brown in this moment in American history.

“His personal narrative is compelling, and his experience both in municipal and educational policing have provided him with a broad set of experiences that inform his approach,” Spina said. “Centered in ‘community policing,’ Chief Chatman insists that he and his officers become deeply engaged in the campus community and that they work to build trusting relationships with those they seek to protect. Then, when an incident occurs or there is a need for police involvement, there is a pre-existing understanding of the humanity of those involved and the need for a human-centered approach to the situation.”

At Dayton, Chatman created a student, faculty and staff advisory committee for public safety and launched a public safety advocates program that worked to reduce barriers between campus police and students. He said that leading with compassion is a prerequisite for any successful campus safety officer.

“It’s important that students and community members understand that however they come to us, we respect their dignity and their humanity,” Chatman said. “Those tenets are fundamentally important to how public safety needs to engage with those they serve. Once that occurs, community members will feel comfortable reaching out for support and assistance — ultimately, that makes for a safer campus for everyone.” 

Spina said the community-centered approach comes naturally to Chatman, who cares deeply about each of the people on the campuses where he has served.

“Chief Chatman devotes an extraordinary amount of time to building relationships with students, faculty and staff so that he understands their concerns, fears, hopes and dreams — and this in turn allows him to lead his officers in a way that responds to the real needs of the community,” he said. “His success is enabled by a desire to listen carefully to and learn people’s stories, by a strong value system that is rooted in his faith, and by a wonderful and often disarming sense of humor. He is a person of the highest integrity.”

For years, Chatman and Ronnell Higgins, director of public safety and chief of police at Yale University, have served as confidants to each other from their respective campuses. Higgins said that Chatman is a leader who excels in building relationships both within public safety and across campus.

“Rodney is an innovator — someone who thinks outside the box not only about how to improve services within public safety, but also about the downstream impact that changes will have on the community,” Higgins said. “The programs he’s implemented demonstrate that he understands the need for ‘coproduction’ in public safety — the importance of communities wanting to work together with public safety to produce a safe environment. He’s an organic collaborator and a consummate professional.”

Chatman started his higher education career at the University of Cincinnati from 2005 to 2016, where he served as a police officer and a professional standards captain. He said that among the most important priorities in leading a campus police department is collaborating with campus partners to develop a well-coordinated approach to supporting students and others in moments of distress while protecting safety and security. For any college safety department, he said, working to ensure productive interactions between officers and community members in challenging moments — whether mental health or other factors are in play — is essential.

“When you ask students about campus safety, not being a victim of a crime is often third or fourth on their list of considerations — to many, safety means emotional and psychological safety,” he said. “Do I belong here? Do people respect who I am and how I identify? Are the police on campus an occupying force or a resource? We need to be attuned to how to provide resources to community members in a way that ensure our interactions clearly convey that we’re present to assist and to ensure safety.”

Before joining the University of Cincinnati in 2005, Chatman served as a police officer for the cities of Silverton and St. Bernard in Ohio. In St. Bernard, he spent four years as the safety director, overseeing the city’s fire and police departments. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice and a certificate in African American studies from the University of Cincinnati, and completed the FBI’s national crisis negotiation certification course.

Chatman has been on leave from the University of Utah following an allegation of supposedly performing law enforcement duties before receiving his police certification in Utah — a claim determined by external law enforcement agencies to be unfounded. In June, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that he performed administrative duties only, as required, and that its investigation found no evidence of any misconduct.

“Given the unfortunate nature of an allegation that proved to be unfounded, Chief Chatman proactively raised this topic in the Brown interview process, was fully forthcoming with the search committee, and has been cleared across the board by the district attorney in Utah,” Carey said. “His engagement in our comprehensive search process showed clearly that he not only has the right skills and experiences, but also the right characteristics and values to help us advance our approach to safety and security on the Brown campus. We eagerly look forward to welcoming him as the 2021-22 academic year gets underway in September.”