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LU police chief uses his experience to inspire students

LU police chief uses his experience to inspire students

September 30th, 2018 by Joe Gamm in Local News

Lincoln University Chief of Police Gary Hill poses for a portrait on Sept. 10, 2018, at the LUPD.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

Running a university's police department has its challenges, according to Chief Gary Hill of the Lincoln University Police Department.

One of the most difficult parts of the job is dealing with the transient nature of a college campus, Hill said. Some of the students are here today and gone tomorrow.

"You're trying to build a rapport with them, and the next thing you know, you don't see them anymore," he said. "They don't come back. Now, you're back to building rapport with someone else — someone new."

It's a situation he knows all too well from his own days as a student at LU, when he was younger and — in his own words — a knucklehead. He got kicked out of the university.

"I didn't go to class, and I didn't do my work," Hill said.

It wasn't like he hadn't had discipline while being raised. His grandfather was a pastor, and both his parents were in the military. But once he left his home in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1992, he couldn't be controlled, Hill said.

He was shown the door after about a year and a half.

Shortly afterward, he had a daughter, for whom he had joint custody.

"I was working three jobs — Hardee's, Scholastic and Hibbett Sports at the mall," Hill said. "I had a mouth to feed. I was working three jobs and had a child, so I had to make a choice."

Hill knew what he wanted to achieve and that he couldn't continue working so many jobs.

He took classes at Columbia College.

He had to sit out of Lincoln University for at least a year. And he had to write a letter of appeal to be accepted back into the college. Once there, he could not receive financial aid until he achieved a grade point average of at least 2.0.

His determination carried him through. In 1996, he got a job as a corrections officer at "Old Walls" (Missouri State Penitentiary) and was readmitted to LU. At the same time, he also put himself through the sheriff's academy at night.

He accepted a job as a jailer in the Cole County Jail in 1998 and earned his bachelor's degree in criminal justice in 2001.

"I should have been a doctor, as long as I was in school," Hill joked.

Two years later, he earned a master's degree in criminal justice administration from Columbia College. Now he's working toward a master of business administration in public administration.

He was with the Cole County Sheriff's Office for 18 years and, after attaining the rank of lieutenant, ran for sheriff in 2016. He lost the Republican primary to John Wheeler, who had no opposition in the general election and later became sheriff.

Less than three months after the primary loss, Hill was chosen to head the university's police department.

"It's been like coming home," he said.

About 1,200 students live on LU's campus. During the day, the population balloons to about 4,000 with the influx of faculty, staff, visitors and other students.

His department has 13 sworn officers — three full-time and three part-time operators (dispatchers), along with four security officers responsible for on-campus dorm security.

Hill has chosen to hire several of his officers because, like him, they have stories to tell students.

Another problem the campus sees is that sometimes students get bored and "hang out." Unfortunately, sometimes "riff raff" see the youngsters hanging out and want to be there, too. His department tries to keep people who aren't supposed to be on campus after 5:30 p.m. away from students.

"Students don't like having a lot of kids who aren't students coming here because they come in and cause problems. They don't have anything to lose," Hill said.

A focus of this administration has been to provide programs to prevent date rape, particularly for younger students. The majority of sexual assaults on campuses are date rapes — situations where a couple was in a relationship and things went too far, he said.

"We don't have anyone jumping out of trees or bushes or hiding in cars. It's always been someone that they've known or have possibly been in a relationship with," Hill said.

A personal goal he has is to get his circles of friends involved in community action. He's begun that effort recently by accepting a role as one of 20 Mid-Missouri men who are going to wear pink every day in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to raise awareness of the disease and raise money for the American Cancer Society.

A grandmother and grandfather of Hill's both died of cancer in their 60s within two years of each other — one in 2012 and the other in 2014. It was so quick, he said.

Then his father fought off prostate cancer in 2017. It was a close call.

Hill joined 14 of the "Real Men Wear Pink" participants earlier this month to share stories and gather tips on how to manage their fundraising activities.

His officers will carry pink handcuffs during October. All the department's patrol cars will feature a graphic on the back to raise awareness of breast cancer. Hill intends to host a "Real Men Wear Pink and Also Style Hair" event in a partnership with Heads Up Salon. Don't worry — the men will work on life-size mannequin heads, dyeing, cutting and styling wigs. He has other ideas he's keeping close to the vest.

Participants of "Real Men Wear Pink" are competitive. Hill said hearing some of the goals participants had was a little bit intimidating.

"I had a little sticker shock," he said. "I have a couple of things in mind that will hopefully get me to my goal of at least $2,500."

This article was edited at 11:50 a.m. Oct. 1, 2018, to correct details about Hill's family and education.