Lt. Robert Heighes interviewed for the chief of police position for Eastern Michigan University’s Department of Public Safety, in a public forum on April 10 in room 350 of the Student Center. Heighes is the third of five candidates interviewing for the position.
EMU President Susan Martin appointed Heighes as interim executive director of public safety and chief of police Dec. 23, following the death of former Police Chief Greg O’Dell. This is the third occasion Heighes has served as chief of police in an interim capacity, and has now spent over a year in the position cumulatively.
Heighes has served 28 of his 34 years in law enforcement at the EMU DPS, where he worked his way up from campus police officer, to sergeant and then to lieutenant. Currently he is one class shy of earning his master of liberal studies in public safety administration from EMU.
Heighes said the relationships he has cultivated on campus and his years of experience at EMU are the defining attributes he brings to the position.
“You need these relationships across the board with all the areas, Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, the Physical Plant to get a lot of things done here at the university in a timely fashion,” Heighes said. “You need these relationships and I bring that to the table.”
He said there is a big difference between policing a municipality and understanding the unique issues of a university, where DPS officers have alternative options for offenders such as referring them to the office of Student Conduct and Community Standards.
“That’s a different option that we have here at the university that doesn’t exist out in the city, [where] it’s either kick you loose or write you a ticket,” Heighes said. “Sometimes some of these things can be damaging to a person’s history and a career, from that point on. Whereas we might be able to handle something in-house and turn it into an educational experience, versus just a law enforcement experience.”
Heighes said the most difficult situation he’s had to handle on the job was dealing with the recent and unexpected death of Chief O’Dell.
“I stepped forward and have filled in and kept the department moving in a forward direction, but quite frankly that has been the most difficult day of my life,” Heighes said. “I think of Greg everyday.”
Heighes said his job doesn’t end at five o’clock and he’s pretty much on call 24/7.
“You can ask my wife that question. I’m sure she can tell you that when I get the phone calls at three o’clock in the morning, she gets them too,” he said.
Heighes said building relationships, educating students and working with student organizations is a core function of the DPS.
“You can’t just dismiss them because they’re students. They’re here to get an education and they’re wanting to experience life, and you have to recognize that sometimes they make mistakes and I know that,” Heighes said.
He said it’s important to continue interdepartmental cooperation between the DPS and the Ypsilanti Police Department, to keep students, faculty and staff safe on and off campus.
“Most of the chiefs in [Washtenaw] county I’ve had relationships with. Good relationships,” Heighes said.
In January, Heighes told The Eastern Echo he’s interested in the permanent position of chief but plans to stay at EMU either way.
“It’s something I would like to do, but if it doesn’t happen there’s more to being here at the university, than just being the chief of police,” he said.
EMU’s Executive Director of Government and Community Relations Leigh Greden said in an email the university received over 60 applications for the position, which the search committee screened over the past two months and narrowed down to five candidates.
Greden said throughout the process the search committee has consulted with Martin, who is committed to having a permanent chief in place as soon as possible, and the committee will hopefully have their recommendation by the end of April.
While the search committee makes its recommendation to Martin, who is responsible for hiring the chief of police, the candidate is subject to the Board of Regents approval per the board’s bylaws.
Greden said the committee is pleased with the caliber of candidates who applied, and is confident EMU’s next chief of police will be an asset to the university.
The last candidate Scott Pavlik, a Police Captain in the City of Warren, will be interviewed at 9:30 a.m. on April 13 in Room 330 of the Student Center.