Sept 8, 2015Vol. 46, Issue 1

Chat with the Chief

Improving staff diversity, training, cooperation with city are priorities for new police chief John Feeney

John Feeney brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his new role as chief of the University Police Department. Photo by Jason Halley, University Photographer

Editor’s Note: Recently, we sat down with new University Police Chief John Feeney, who joined the department July 1. Previously serving as commanding officer of a San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) division at the San Francisco International Airport, Feeney has more than 29 years of law enforcement experience and has served at the captain level since 2010. He holds a bachelor’s degree in management and a master’s degree in leadership from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California. 

What drew you to the job at Chico State?

When I was a lieutenant, a retired captain of mine, Dan Lawson, was working as director of public safety at the University of San Francisco. He said my personality, commitment to education, and ability to reach other people would make me a good fit for a university. Coming from him, who’d worked for a university for 10 years, my eyes were opened.  

I’d been to Chico once before with my wife—we’d been here a few years ago—and had a sergeant that worked for me who was a proud Chico State alum. So I looked at it, and thought it would be a good fit. I am very fortunate to have been selected.

You have a son in college. Does that affect how you do your job?

I love my kids, and my kids are the same age as the students attending here. They have the same issues, and being aware of those issues really give me a leg up in being able to communicate. We exist for them [students]. When we realize the role we play and get back to the basics and embrace it, it makes it that much more satisfying. [Watch this video for more on how having a son in college influences the chief.]

What do you hope to accomplish in your role here?

Eighty-nine percent of our students live off campus. One thing I hope to accomplish is to continue to legitimize our role as university police—not only with faculty, staff, and students, but with our community members. We need to continue to build relationships and change people’s minds.

Right now, it’s a hard time in policing. We have an opportunity to change people’s minds about law enforcement and public service. That’s what excites me also about being here at Chico State. The criminal justice program is the fourth largest here, and there’s an opportunity to get involved in the program more than just being an officer. I have an affinity for education, and to have a better police organization, I believe in educating our police officers. It’s incumbent upon us to grow our people.

That kind of leads me to my personal leadership philosophy, which is kind of a parental style, in that I want our people to have it better than we had it. We have an opportunity in Butte County to grow our own police officers. I love mentoring people, and continue to mentor officers of rank in San Francisco. I look forward to doing that here as well.

Chief Feeney talks with parents Glenn and Yvonne Bennett of San Diego during move-in, Aug. 18.

Chief Feeney talks with parents Glenn and Yvonne Bennett of San Diego during move-in, Aug. 18.

What do you want the department to look like in one year?

We’re currently looking to re-hire two positions which have been reduced over the years; and perhaps two more if I can. I have a staffing model in mind I think would work well, but I’m still working on that. [Watch this video to learn more about the chief’s plans to improve diversity in the department.]

I’m looking to see that our officers embody our vision about the future of policing, and we see our future starting immediately. We need to have enhanced engagement with our students. I’m looking forward to establishing a “Chat with the Chief” in each individual residence hall and opening up a conversation.

With (captain) Mike O’Brien at the Chico Police Department; myself; and Kory Honea, who was elected as (Butte County) sheriff last year—we really have a great opportunity in front of us to make some lasting changes to the way law enforcement has been done here.

We’re in the process of working on a Memorandum of Understanding between the University and the City of Chico around the Kristen Smart act, which determines who handles what crimes in overlapping jurisdictions.

The neighborhoods off campus are patrolled by the Chico Police Department as well as UPD, so they should be safer neighborhoods because of the concurrent jurisdiction, and that’s my goal: to work with Mike and Brian as we move forward.

What are your views on the current climate of policing in America?

I have contemporary views on policing. I realize we in law enforcement—and my staff will get tired of hearing this—we have to look in the mirror before we look out the window. We have to examine within ourselves what role we’ve played and where we’ve gotten and what we need to do to position ourselves to be successful in the future. I am committed to education and to the profession of policing and to people. I love people—that’s why I’m here.

I was concerned about the effect the University of Cincinnati incident could have on policing here at the University and in the state of California. I came to learn that in Ohio, university police officers receive about 60 percent of the training, give or take, of those at agencies in other states. Here in California, our officers at the university level and municipalities and any other agency get the same training—we’re all post-certified. We have an opportunity to showcase the fact that our officers are as trained as city police. 

Watch the video below to hear more about the chief's views on the challenges facing law enforcement, and potential solutions. 



Retired WREC staff Wayne Murray was the recipient of the 2014 Staff Safety Award. Plus, faculty and staff achievements since spring 2015. Read more.



We asked our social media followers how they've been molded by Chico State as part of a Forbes’ campaign. Here are a few of our favorites. See Storify.