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Vanderbilt University officer hired as new UTPA Chief of Police
Posted: 03/16/2009
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The University of Texas-Pan American has announced the selection of Roger Lee Stearns as the new Chief of Police for the UTPA Police Department. Stearns will begin in his new position effective April 13.

Stearns comes to UTPA from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. where he served as a police major overseeing 60 commissioned officers assigned in three patrol precincts, including the university's medical center. He was employed with Vanderbilt since January 2007. Prior to that Stearns worked as a sergeant for the police department at The University of Texas at Dallas from 1997-2007 and as a senior communications officer for the University of Arkansas Police Department from 1994-1997.

-- Roger Lee Stearns
Stearns said he was excited to be returning to Texas and join the UTPA community.

"The university has a large student enrollment, is in Texas, and is part of The University of Texas System. My wife and I have both missed living in Texas since we moved out of state. We are pleased we will get to raise our son as a Texan," Stearns said.

Stearns started his career in campus law enforcement at the University of Arkansas where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

"When I was a student at the University of Arkansas, I and another student started a Law Enforcement Explorer Post with the University of Arkansas Police Department (UAPD). I was so impressed with the professionalism of the UAPD that I decided to pursue a career specifically in campus law enforcement. UAPD showed me the stereotype about campus police not being 'real police' was inaccurate," he said.

Stearns is currently working on a Master of Arts in criminal justice from the American Military University in Manassas, Va. He has received a professional certificate from the FBI National Academy, holds an Advanced Peace Officer certificate from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education and is a graduate of the University of Texas Police Academy.

While working at UT Dallas, Stearns received numerous honors including being named officer of the year in 2000, outstanding employee in 2005 for the UT Dallas Business Affairs division, and supervisor of the year in 2006. He is a certified law enforcement instructor and has served as a consultant to other universities on issues of department technology management and community oriented policing.

Additionally, Stearns is a member of numerous professional organizations including the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. He is also a longtime supporter of Law Enforcement Exploring and the Boy Scouts of America, serving as a member of the National Eagle Scout Association since 1989.

While at Vanderbilt, Stearns said he is particularly proud of establishing a special patrol precinct on the university's newly created freshmen campus in collaboration with that campus' dean and residence life staff. He said each officer in the new precinct was bike patrol certified by the International Police Mountain Bike Association, served as a community liaison to a residence hall, and prepared educational presentations for the community.

"The goal was to integrate the officers into the precinct as members of the community, not just as enforcers," he said.

In his new role as UTPA police department chief, Stearns said he will work on minimizing the "us versus them" relationship that often exists between officers and the community they serve.

"It is the department's responsibility to be a leader to the community in the efforts for a safer environment in which to learn, work and live. The chief of police must set the tone for this relationship with the community and lead by example. The chief must set the bar high for integrity, service and excellence," Stearns said.

At UTPA, his plans include increasing professional training opportunities for the commissioned and support staff of the department as well as to expand community-oriented policing initiatives to facilitate more involvement with students, staff and faculty. Stearns said he's also interested in establishing a Citizen's Police Academy program and a Law Enforcement Explorer Post for students interested in a law enforcement career.

Stearns was selected from three semi-finalists interviewed after a five-month search process following the departure of former UTPA Police Chief Howard Miller. The 11-member selection committee headed by J.C. Gonzalez, assistant vice president for Business Affairs, included a representative from The UT System police as well as members of the UTPA staff, faculty and student body.

Besides its university regulation and law enforcement duties, the 40 full-time and part-time personnel in the UTPA Police Department are responsible for campus parking services.

James Langabeer, vice president for the Division of Business Affairs, who oversees the Police Department, said Stearns gained vast support from the selection committee.

"He seemed to be the best fit for UTPA. He knows from working in The UT System at UT Dallas that it is a premier system when it comes to policing operations. He is excited about the opportunity to serve and he really did his homework about the University in advance of the interviews. And I liked his attitude and saw him as a good fit within the business affairs division and the University," Langabeer said.