Occidental names Rick Tanksley Director of Campus Safety

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Rick Tanksley, Occidental’s new Campus Safety Director, answers questions in his office at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Allen Li / The Occidental

Occidental named Rick Tanksley the new Campus Safety Director Jan. 8 after a four-month search process, headed by a nine-member search committee comprised of staff, faculty and students, that began in Fall 2017.

Tanksley previously worked in Oak Park, Illinois, at the police department for 32 years. For the last 15 years of his time there, he was the chief of police. For the past year, Tanksley worked as vice president of law enforcement at a law enforcement consulting firm called Hillard Heintze. In this role, he specifically assisted police departments with community policing efforts, complaint processes and analyzing bias. According to Tanksley, the firm held the sole contract with the Department of Justice to conduct all of its collaborative reform initiatives around the country. The firm sends groups of professionals to help re-establish trust and legitimacy with the community after issues such as officer-involved shootings.

Tanksley said that he has several main priorities that he plans on accomplishing as Campus Safety director. He plans to improve the emergency preparedness procedures at Occidental as well as increase the amount of staff within the Campus Safety department. Tanksley has already begun working with Human Resources to address the understaffing problem the Campus Safety department faces.

“In the past five weeks, I have been doing a lot of assessment, you know, assessing what are the needs of this department, what are the needs of my peers. And trying to determine ways I can make Campus Safety more visible, more customer-friendly and also to see if there are any areas we are falling short,” Tanksley said.

Part of the hiring process included a change in title from chief of Campus Safety to Campus Safety director. According to Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rob Flot, this shift better reflects the nature of Campus Safety’s role on a college campus — one that is not armed and which includes an administrative aspect.

The name change follows a shift in the administrative leadership of Campus Safety. Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Amos Himmelstein previously oversaw the department before Flot took over starting this semester. According to a hiring announcement email from Himmelstein Dec. 11, 2017, this shift will allow Flot to be directly involved with the development and improvement of Campus Safety’s community policing model, support Campus Safety’s engagement with students and other campus constituencies and help guide Campus Safety’s responses to urgent, sensitive and emergency situations.

According to Himmelstein, the jurisdiction of Campus Safety has been subject to change since Oxy United for Black Liberation’s occupation of the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center (AGC). Following the activists’ demands, the Campus Safety Advisory Committee (CSAC) issued a recommendation July 1, 2016, that Campus Safety should report directly to Chief Diversity Officer Rhonda Brown or a senior administrator with oversight over multiple constituencies, according to Himmelstein. In response to the CSAC recommendation, Campus Safety was placed under the jurisdiction of Himmelstein, vice president for finance and planning, with the intent to revisit the reporting structure once the college hired a permanent vice president of student affairs. The college hired Flot as the new vice president for student affairs and dean of students July 2017.

Following the departure of former Chief of Campus Safety Victor Clay in 2017, Occidental hired interim Chief of Campus Safety Joe Novak. Novak held the position until January 2018 when the college hired Tanksley. At the time of his hire, the college revisited the reporting structure of Campus Safety and moved oversight back to student affairs. According to Himmelstein, part of the reason for the change was Dean Flot’s past experience in his previous role overseeing Campus Safety at Lake Forest College.

Tanksley’s demeanor impressed Flot, who co-chaired the search committee with Himmelstein.

“[What stood out was] his manner, his character and his willingness and his eagerness to engage,” Flot said.

Anastasia Cusack-Mercedez (sophomore) was one of the students involved in the search committee. She said that Tanksley stood out to her because of his emphasis on community engagement.

“In his interview he did a lot of talking about community building, which is something my questions were mostly focused on — how will you connect with the community and make sure you’re a part of the community rather than just watching the community from the outside,” Cusack-Mercedez said. “He said for the future he would really value speaking to students about their perceptions of Campus Safety and what they want from the department.”

Tanksley said he sought out a position at a college where he could utilize his law enforcement experience from a community-oriented perspective. According to Tanksley, he did not want a typical law enforcement job. When he learned about the open position at Occidental and looked into the college, he felt that it aligned with his values of diversity and social justice. 

Tanksley brought his wife, Nancy, and his 8-month-old son David, with him to Los Angeles. He also has a daughter, Melissa, who works as a nurse in Chicago.

“We should all welcome Rick and get to know [him],” Himmelstein said.