University of St. Thomas Police Chief James Tate will become Rice University Police Department Chief on May 1. Interim Chief Captain Clemente Rodriguez will remain at the head of RUPD until Tate takes over in May. Johnny Whitehead previously held the position of RUPD Chief before retiring on Jan. 31.

Tate said he has been friends with Whitehead for years and the latter encouraged him to apply for the RUPD chief opening.

“The more I looked, the more I liked,” Tate said. “I’m thankful and blessed that they saw fit to give me this opportunity.”

Tate served in the National Guard for 21 years and began his career in law enforcement with the Jonesboro Arkansas Police Department. He started university police work at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville before becoming a captain and then assistant chief at Lamar University.

Tate said he was brought to UST to develop a security team into a full-fledged police department with law enforcement authority. At the University of St. Thomas Police Department, Tate held “Coffee with the Chief” meetings, where students, faculty and staff could request individual sessions to voice concerns. Tate said he hopes to begin Coffee with the Chief at Rice as soon as possible.

“It seemed to me one of the most informal ways to reach out to the community, to say ‘Hey, if we’re doing something to serve the community, can we do it better?’” Tate said.

Tate also said he is a strong advocate of community policing and plans to build relationships with key stakeholders on campus, which he identified as the administrative vice presidents, deans of undergraduates and graduate studies and leaders of student groups.

“I want [RUPD officers] to get to know the community that we work with and the community that we serve,” Tate said. “Often that means getting out of the car and talking to and engaging with students, staff and faculty on a regular basis.”

Tate said he is considering further engaging students by forming a group of students to provide frequent feedback.

“I’m toying with the idea of having a group of students that I speak to on a very regular basis,” Tate said. “If I can hear what they believe the problems are, then I’m more likely to get them solved.”

Before making changes to RUPD’s operations, Tate said he wanted to understand the current state of the department.

“I first want to get a sense of what’s here, what’s available, where the challenges are,” Tate said. “I do have some things in the back of my mind, but [I’m] not ready to announce those yet until I understand the layout of the land and what we’re dealing with here.”

Tate said he is also interested in learning more about Rice’s emergency notification system and evaluating its effectiveness.

“I have experience with [the emergency notification system] in other locations so I want to compare them to see if we can make some improvements,” Tate said.

The UST police department is smaller than RUPD and consists of only nine sworn officers compared to RUPD’s 21. Tate said he is not concerned about the difference in size between his current and new department, adding that he would draw on his experience at Lamar University, which he said has a population of 15,000 students.

“Whether it’s a small department or a large department, whether it’s a public university or a private university, the things we [police chiefs] deal with are all very similar,” Tate said.

Tate said his careers in both the military and law enforcement allow him to draw on a wider range of experiences in performing his duties as police chief

“As a police chief, having experienced working in military, working for public institutions, private institutions, [gives] me a broader perspective than I think a lot of my peers,” Tate said. “As a result when an issue is brought to me I have more to choose from in terms of how I go about solving that problem.”

Rodriguez said he looks forward to Tate joining RUPD.

“He has a wealth of experience and knowledge, which I think will make him a good fit for RUPD,” Rodriguez said. “I am extremely proud of our department and believe we will continue to do a great job serving the Rice community and in support of Chief Tate.”