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Agency Spotlight: Northwestern University Police Department

Northwestern University Police DepartmentNorthwestern University is a Tier I private research university with main campuses located in Evanston and downtown Chicago, Illinois. We have approximately 3,300 full-time faculty members, 21,000 graduate and undergraduate students, and more than 5,700 full- and part-time staff. Northwestern is also a member of the Big Ten Conference and has 19 varsity athletic programs.

Within our police department there are 55 commissioned police officers and 85 contract and proprietary security officers. We have our own dispatch center that is categorized as a secondary Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). 

Over the last two years, our University Police Department has worked hard to align people, processes, and technology, both internal and external, to make improvements in the quality of service that we provide to our campus community. One of our first actions was to revise the job descriptions and restructure our hiring process, tightening the requirements so candidates have a bachelor’s degree or four years of military service with an honorable discharge. We also identified core competencies demonstrated by our most successful staff and incorporated benchmarking questions into the process to measure candidate’s proficiency with those skills. Examples of these core competencies are service delivery, empathy, and decision making.

In support of our commitment to diversity and inclusion, we also benchmarked the self-identified demographics of our department to identify gaps. Once the gaps were identified we implemented targeted recruitment and succession activities to address them. Within one calendar year we were able to make positive impacts on all of the identified gaps. Now 35 percent of the sworn officers in our department are female, and our sworn officer population overall is 33 percent African American, 19 percent Latino, and 5 percent Asian. The self-identified gender of our non-supervisory staff is 46 percent female and 54 percent male. The self-identified gender of supervisory staff is 20 percent female. 

Northwestern University PD has also made a significant investment in training over the last two years. In addition to a purchasing a monthly online course service that helps keep certifications current, the entire department has received Mental Health First Aid through our certified trainers, and more than 35% of our police and dispatchers have completed the 40-hour Crisis Intervention Training. As a result, we are one of the first university police departments to be recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP’s) One Mind Campaign. Teaching our officers how to de-escalate and deal with people in mental crisis has improved their ability to empathize and understand, while helping them deal more effectively with our community members experiencing mental health crisis. We also began including implicit bias awareness and impartial policing training as part of our annual in-service two years ago. Northwestern faculty specializing in implicit bias research, as well as colleagues throughout other departments, facilitate these training sessions. 

New research from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicates that knowing about the existence of your campus’ threat assessment team improves the ability to identify and respond to concerning behaviors that have the possibility of violence. Northwestern’s dedicated Director of Threat Assessment Dr. Michelle Hoy-Watkins, PsyD, oversees our very active Behavioral Consultation Team (BCT). The team meets weekly to evaluate threats and concerning behavior. In March 2018 we will be one of the first university police departments to implement the Resolver threat assessment management software, which includes a module to conduct the WAVR21 threat assessment instrument. Dr. Hoy-Watkins has also worked with our Global Marketing team and the Department of Homeland Security to develop a comprehensive marking plan directly related to threat assessment and referrals to the BCT. 

In 2015 we embarked on a multi-year athletics safety and security enhancement plan.  Both DHS and the Big Ten have partnered with us on this journey. Based on their recommendations, we made a number of changes to worker security, entrance and exit points, staffing, surveillance, and traffic flow, and we implemented a “clear bag” policy. As a result of this work Northwestern’s Ryan Field was selected as a Facility of Merit by the National Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) in 2017. 

Northwestern University PD has maintained a good working relationship with our local police departments, especially the police for the city of Evanston, where our main campus is located. The university and city applied for a joint grant from the Department of Justice to implement body-worn cameras and ran trials of the cameras over the summer. Both departments chose the Axon camera solution and went live with their use in February 2018.

Bike safety is a large concern on any college campus, and we have been fortunate to have the support of the city of Evanston in our efforts to minimize incidents. Two key initiatives were implemented over the past year.  Our department now issues bike helmets and lights to all individuals that register their bicycles with our department. In 2017 we distributed 560 helmets. The helmets are also distributed in a clear bag that is marked with our department logo and also meets the stadium clear-bag policy standards.  Also, the city of Evanston reconfigured the main thoroughfare through campus, Sheridan Road, and installed bike lanes and special traffic signals for cyclists.  The bike lanes are protected by a curb separating vehicular and bicycle traffic.

Lastly, in an attempt to be more responsive to our community, we established a transparency page within our website. One of the items included on this page is the quarterly Transparency Report detailing the race and gender of each person and/or traffic stop conducted by members of our department.  We believe that this is important in showing our efforts to be transparent with our community and address race and gender bias in policing.

For more information about Northwestern University PD and our programs, please visit our website at 


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