UMass police chief candidate Tyrone Parham seeks job for professional growth



Last modified: Wednesday, November 25, 2015

AMHERST — Tyrone A. Parham has been involved with the Pennsylvania State University Police Department for 26 years, including four as its chief, but he told University of Massachusetts Amherst community members at a forum Tuesday that he is ready for the next chapter of his career.

Parham, 44, is one of three finalists to become the next chief of the UMass Police Department. The other two candidates are Joseph R. Riley, deputy chief of the New York City Police Department, who visited campus last week, and Thomas Y. Trawick Jr., chief of police and director of emergency management at Clark Atlanta University, who will participate in a public forum Thursday.

Parham said he was attracted to the professional opportunities because the UMass department is better staffed than the one at Penn State, as well as the larger community which is a good place to raise a family.

“I read this job description and it sounded like me, to be honest,” he said at Tuesday’s forum. “In some ways I was born and raised in my current department, and I’ll likely grow a lot on a professional basis. I plan to be here for a long time.”

The chief of police job became available when former chief John K. Horvath announced in March he would leave to become chief in Rockport. He left the department in May. The next chief will also serve as an assistant vice chancellor at the university.

A 25-person search committee, headed by David Vaillancourt, senior associate dean of students, began accepting applicants Aug. 26, and the finalists were announced Oct. 22.

Student security

Parham said his career in law enforcement began when he joined the student security program at Penn State as a first-year engineering student 26 years ago. He enjoyed the program so much he switched his major to criminal justice and ended up applying to be an officer on the university’s police force after he graduated in 1993.

He became deputy chief of the department in 2008 and rose to the rank of chief in 2011.

“My entire career experience is from campus law enforcement,” he said. “I’m not sure I’d want to work in an environment that is not a campus. I love working on a college campus, love our students, love the vibrancy and all the things that happen daily on a college campus. You have to love people working on a college campus, and I love people.”

Parham said police on campuses have to have intentional engagement with diverse groups of students, and to work with students as members of the same community.

“It isn’t about one or two officers assigned to a division at the time,” he said. “Everyone’s role is to have that mind-set.”

Parham said he hopes to earn the trust of the community so that when the department has to make a tough decision, the community knows he has the best intentions.

At the same time, he said he has work to do to get to know the UMass community.

Early in the question-and-answer portion of the forum, a student asked Parham how he responded to the Black Lives Matter movement — which seeks to stop perceived disparities in police treatment of minorities — and to campus activism in general.

Parham, who is black, said he has a unique perspective, and is able to view things both as a police officer and as a member of a minority group.

“In reference to demonstrations, I would not be standing here without demonstrations, so I appreciate people who stood up to demonstrate,” he said.

Parham said he supports people who say both Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, but said that those who say the latter need to understand the history and context of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The need to understand the ’60s and discrimination and understand about unequal sentencing and discriminatory practices with traffic and drug stops,” he said.

He said he would seek to meet with activist groups on campus — but that as a law enforcement professional, he would not usually provide his own personal opinion.

He said he would have no tolerance for discrimination.

“There’s no place for racial profiling,” he said. “We have enough bad things held against us in this profession, and this should not be one of them.”

Asked about the size of his current department, Parham said he oversees about 50 officers, which is fewer than the roughly 60 employed by the UMass department. Penn State has about 47,000 students, with 14,000 living on campus, he said.

“We have more students and a smaller police force,” he said, but he added that he would still want to look at the UMass department and see if more officers might be needed to adequately cover the campus.

He also said sexual violence and rape are problems on campus and that the focus in stopping it should be on prevention and education programs. “The work is continuous,” he said.

Like UMass, Penn State has faced challenges with unruly St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, Parham said, explaining that dealing with the large party before spring break was one of the biggest challenges of his career.

Seeming to describe a situation similar to the annual Blarney Blowout event in Amherst — which in 2014 led to 55 arrests and police using tear gas to disperse crowds — Parham said that between 2007 and 2012 in Pennsylvania there were hundreds of students ending up in the emergency room with alcohol poisoning.

“We took this challenge on to change this, and the community came together,” he said. “We had rooms full of people including landlords, alumni associations, student affairs, athletics, and we had students stepping up to make this a volunteer service day.”

By 2014 and 2015, the party had significantly diminished, he said, though he admitted the department still has a way to go to get it fully contained.

In a response to a question about the UMass department’s controversial confidential informant program, which ended earlier this year following a review sparked by the overdose death of a student member, Parham said his department did not use many confidential informants. Opponents of the UMass program said the student, Eric Sinacori, should have received help for his addiction, but that his family was not notified because of his participation in the program.

“Most of our information we get comes from sources rather than a confidential informant, people who call up anonymously or tell us who they are and feed us information of who robbed who and who burgled what room,” Parham said.

Parham added that he believes drugs have no place on a college campus and said his department has worked with off-campus organizations to form a drug task force to work on removing them.

Resumes and letters of interest submitted by Parham and the other candidates can be found at: www.umass.edu/studentlife/umass-amherst-assistant-vice-chancellorchief-police-search.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.


 


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