When Colorado State University Police Department Chief Scott Harris retires at the end of this month, he will be wrapping up an extraordinary 50-year career in law enforcement that began – fittingly – with his own role as a student employee.
In 1971, Harris was hired by the Albuquerque Police Department in a role similar to CSUPD’s student campus safety officers. As a law enforcement professional, Harris later served as a 9-1-1 dispatcher, officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant and captain in Albuquerque’s large metropolitan police department. He spent 14 years overseeing a federal narcotics task force as well as K-9 units, SWAT teams, detectives, and patrol officers, and worked undercover.
But after all those intense law enforcement experiences, Harris, who was hired by CSU in 2008 and named CSUPD chief in 2013, said he found a home in campus policing.
“I love it; had I known what serving a university would be like, I would have moved my career in that direction sooner,” he said. “I came to CSU thinking it would be a cakewalk after my previous experiences, yet it’s been one of the most complex periods of my career.”
It’s a complexity that Harris relished.
“What I appreciate most is the opportunity to partner with nearly every unit on campus and engage with young adults, and to truly be a part of the university’s day-to-day life and activities,” he said. “I love the mission of student success and the change of focus from the singular goal of enforcement and going from call to call to building relationships and collaborating with units, departments and colleges in that shared goal of keeping our students safe, healthy and succeeding.”
CSUPD officers are assigned to residence halls and serve as liaisons to students who live in those halls. They focus on creating relationships with the students, helping them learn about safety, and proactively addressing personal concerns before situations escalate into crises.
Harris cherishes the memory of overhearing a student tell a group of friends that Harris was “my cop” at a football game, after Harris met the student while walking through a residence hall earlier in the week. It was an experience that stuck with him because it was evidence of forming a relationship with a community that non-university police officers often do not experience.
His commitment to serving students is one that CSU Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes affirms.
“Scott and I have met often over the years to talk through student-focused concerns,” Hughes said. “He cares about students and wanted to identify ways the department could meet their needs. He is committed to the community and concepts of university policing, and the belief that a university police department should be an important part of the student experience.”
Harris has also developed deep relationships with other members of the CSU staff.
“I’ve come to know Scott Harris as an exceptional public safety official, seasoned by years of service and experience,” said Tom Satterly, associate vice president for Facilities Management.
“Public safety demands a serious yet compassionate approach, and Scott skillfully led his team through often challenging situations, ensuring the safety of the CSU students, faculty and staff entrusted under his watch. Scott’s sober engagement balanced with good humor always brought a calming presence to difficult situations, inspiring confidence among the team.”
In addition to a love of engaging with students, Harris has pursued a personal commitment to education – his own and others. He taught several criminal justice classes for the Department of Sociology at CSU, a familiar role after serving for a decade as an instructor at Northwestern University Center for Public Safety. His own credentials include a bachelor’s in criminal justice and extensive law enforcement education. Harris has attended the FBI’s National Academy, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, FBI Command College, Executive Institute, Supervisory Institute and Command Institute and multiple leadership programs.
“Scott Harris has been an extremely dedicated and thoughtful leader of CSUPD,” said President Joyce McConnell. “He cares so deeply about his officers and staff and is a passionate advocate for them at every turn, which speaks volumes about his compassion and commitment. He has this same approach to our community, particularly our students, while also bringing strategic leadership skills and experience to the challenging situations that can develop on a large campus like ours.”
Among the things that Harris is most proud of is that despite being a small agency (fewer than 36 officers), the CSUPD has been entrusted with the safety of numerous dignitaries visiting the Fort Collins campus, including President Barack Obama, Gen. Colin Powell, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Earning the trust of federal agencies through their commitment and professionalism is a source of pride for the entire department.
Harris also takes pride in the fact that other area law enforcement agencies seek out CSUPD officers for recruitment because of their professionalism, competence, level of training and commitment to community.
“Whoever is selected as the next chief of CSUPD is a lucky individual to be able to work with a very dedicated, professional group of people and to continue a commitment of serving the university and our students,” Harris said. “While this is a time of change for law enforcement, our officers take seriously the task of protecting the future of Colorado and our nation through protecting students.
“I feel very blessed that I was given the opportunity to come to CSU, and further blessed to be the chief of police. I will always look back on my time here as a highlight of my career.”
Personally, Harris is looking forward to spending more time with his family, most of whom are in the Albuquerque area, where he and his wife of 38 years, Sally, will reside later this fall. A father of five and grandfather of five, soon to be six, Harris also wants to spend time with his 96-year-old mother.
“I’m excited to have a retirement filled with seeing my grandchildren grow up, enjoying time with my wife, and riding my motorcycle when I feel like it,” Harris said.
“Devoting 50 years to any profession is rarely heard of today,” said CSUPD Captain Frank Johnson, who has worked closely with Harris throughout his time at CSU. “Half a century to the police profession is truly admirable. As Scott ventures on to his next chapter of watching his grandchildren grow and supporting them with their activities, I wish him the best and congratulate him on one incredible journey.”
McConnell intends to launch a national search for a new leader for the CSUPD, informed by the national conversations around the future of policing. Internal candidates from CSUPD will be eligible to apply for the permanent leadership role.
Effective Sept. 21, McConnell has appointed Wendy Rich-Goldschmidt to serve as Interim Executive Director of Campus Safety and Security. The timing of this temporary role will provide a transition period with Harris. Rich-Goldschmidt, who is semi-retired, will not seek the permanent leadership role in CSUPD.
A law enforcement leader, trainer and consultant, Rich-Goldschmidt served as CSUPD chief from 2009 to 2013 and has worked in law enforcement for 35 years. In addition to teaching leadership courses for the public safety sector, she spent five years as chief of staff to the Miami Beach Police Department, where her strategic recruitment efforts saw a significant rise in the gender diversity of the department. A published advocate of a more generally diverse police force, Rich-Goldschmidt spent more than 20 years with the police department at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, including six years as chief of that department, before she came to CSU.
“I am honored and excited to return to CSU to assist during this critical leadership transition,” Rich-Goldschmidt said. “And I am especially excited to get to work with Scott Harris, who is a longtime friend and someone I greatly respect. He will be tremendously missed by his colleagues and across the CSU campus but his calm and steady leadership of the CSUPD will absolutely make my job easier, and I’m grateful for that.”
McConnell anticipates beginning the search for permanent leadership of CSUPD by early 2021.