Arizona State University has named acting police chief Michael Thompson to take over a department that has struggled with staffing, morale and questions over use of force against a university professor.
Thompson, 47, has been leading the department since July.
In June, the university announced then-chief John Pickens was stepping aside to take on a new role as executive director of University Security Initiatives after 14 years at the helm.
Thompson, a native Arizonan, has been with the department since 2008 and most recently was an assistant chief. Before that, he worked for the Mesa Police Department for 20 years.
“Overall, the department does a good job keeping the community safe,” he said in an interview Friday with The Arizona Republic.
His goals include increased engagement with the community and making sure the department is meeting people’s needs, he said.
The department was thrust into the spotlight this summer after a video went viral of an ASU police officer arresting a university professor. The confrontation prompted debate over whether the officer used excessive force and whether English professor Ersula Ore was targeted because she is Black. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.
The police department also has had difficult staffing all its patrol shifts. In September, a story in The Republic detailed how the department struggled to schedule a full complement of patrol officers, failing to meet its own requirements a majority of the days during the spring semester.
As a result, supervisors had to either pay overtime, reassign someone from another job or leave positions on a shift vacant. The department couldn’t say how often it left a post empty on any given patrol shift.
ASU has hired more police officers this year to bolster department resources.
The department had 74 full-time sworn officers on June 30. Thompson said on Friday the number of officers is 87, which includes five who are in police academy training.
“We’re doing pretty good,” he said.
An anonymous blog, called the Integrity Report, which details the inner-workings of the ASU Police Department, was pushing for ASU to bring in an outsider for the position.
The university conducted a national search, but Morgan Olsen, ASU’s executive Vice President and chief financial officer, said in a statement that Thompson has proven his leadership skills through a range of past jobs and more recently as acting chief.
“We are confident he will build on his career experience and personal attributes to be an exceptional leader,” Olsen said.
Thompson said he brings advantages having already worked at ASU. He knows the university and the surrounding community.
“There’s a lot of things I can hit the ground on running,” he said.
In a move that surprised no one, ASU announced today it was promoting interim chief Michael Thompson to the top cop spot at the university. Thompson’s promotion has sent a clear message to ASUPD’s employees that the department will continue to press on with its head in the sand, unable and unwilling to acknowledge any problems such as staffing, morale, and lack of adequate training.
Thompson stated his goals for ASUPD included “engaging with the community” and “meeting [other] peoples’ needs”, despite the fact that the department is in the midst of a meltdown and is barely able to function. Noticeably absent from his list of goals are ideas that pertain to his own employees, such as improving departmental morale and increasing employee retention. Thompson’s desire to put his own agenda ahead of the department’s needs sound reminiscent of the Pickens-era attitude of shameless self promotion.
Yes, more bodies have come through the door, but for how long? In the Chief’s Advisory Board meeting minutes from December 2013, Pickens was bragging about having 5 more police officer recruits; of those 5 recruits, only half are left at the department. Including your police recruits amongst the total number of sworn officers is not only deceiving to the public, it is just a bold-faced lie to designed to inflate the number of employees. Clearly, Thompson has yet to learn from the mistakes his predecessor made and shouldn’t be counting his chickens before they hatch, so to speak.
The only advantage Thompson had over the other candidates is that he knew how to appease ASU’s administrators (Olsen, Crow) by playing politics and kissing ass. He has no more insight into the university and the surrounding community than the external applicants did. If Thompson did truly understand the needs of the ASU community, he would be actively working to solve issues that concern ASU’s students, faculty–such as having a safe, secure campus. Instead, Thompson has done little more than stand by while Tempe PD proactively reaches out to local residents.
Looking busy while someone else actually does the hard work seems to be the mantra that Thompson lives by nowadays….that seemed to work out fairly well for John Pickens, too.