UI police chief a finalist for UConn job
CHAMPAIGN — University of Illinois Police Chief Barbara R. O'Connor is a finalist for a similar position at the University of Connecticut.
O'Connor, who was hired by the UI in 2008 as chief and executive director of public safety, confirmed Friday that she is being considered for the job at UConn, where Chief Robert Hudd is retiring. O'Connor is scheduled to visit UConn in the next week or two for an interview.
"I really love my job at the University of Illinois," O'Connor said. "There are a lot of great reasons to stay, especially with the new chancellor (Phyllis Wise). I have a lot of admiration and respect for her.
"The position at UConn is the only position I would ever consider leaving Illinois for."
UConn's chief/director of public safety oversees police, fire and ambulance services for the main campus at Storrs, five regional campuses, the law school and medical center, O'Connor said. In all, 90 police officers report to the chief.
O'Connor said Hudd was a mentor when she was a young police chief at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
"He provided me with a lot of wise counsel, and he's done a great job there," she said.
O'Connor also has extended family on the East Coast.
"Certainly to be closer to home is an added benefit," she said.
O'Connor said she had joked with UI President Michael Hogan when he was hired from UConn in 2010 that Hudd's job was the only one she'd consider taking.
UConn President Susan Herbst said last month the search for a new police chief had been narrowed down to a few finalists.
At the UI, O'Connor succeeded Oliver J. Clark, who retired in 2005, and two interim UI chiefs, Kris Fitzpatrick and Jeff Christensen. Previously, she had been police chief at the Amherst campus since 2001.
She earned a law degree from the Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Mass., and a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Westfield State College in 1985. She also holds a master's in labor studies, with research in police misconduct and collective bargaining, from UMass Amherst.
During her tenure at the UI, the department has grown from 55 officers to 66, with help from a federal grant that was awarded to only three U.S. universities.
The campus also has installed a new centralized security camera system that O'Connor said has "enhanced safety significantly." Her officers use it in almost every case and have a much higher clearance rate on solving crimes, she said.
"When I got here there was no thought about any coordinated approach. We took a lead role," she said. "To get people to think about centralizing the security function was a significant cultural shift."