Rice University has named James Tate, chief of police at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, as its new chief of police and director of public safety, effective May 1.
“During his nearly 30 years in law enforcement, James has served as a city, military and university police officer,” Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby said. “He also built the University of St. Thomas Police Department from scratch, which reflects his leadership and collaborative skills. That breadth of experience and skill set made him the ideal candidate to oversee the Rice University Police Department and build upon the success that Chief Johnny Whitehead had in strengthening the department before his retirement.”
Tate said Whitehead befriended him three years ago and served as a mentor after learning that Tate was tasked with building the University of St. Thomas’ campus security service into a full-fledged police department. “When I talked to people at Johnny’s retirement reception, I saw how much they respected Johnny and the police department, and I realized at that point that Rice was someplace where I could thrive,” Tate said.
He began his career in law enforcement in 1988 as a police officer for the city of Jonesboro, Ark., which is about 80 miles from his hometown of Marianna. “I’ve always had a sense of service to the community,” Tate said, “and law enforcement is a very noble profession. At heart, I care for my community. If I can help make a community safe and be there for folks who need help or are not able to fend for themselves, I think that’s a great thing to do.”
In 1993 Tate joined the U.S. Army National Guard as a first lieutenant and worked his way up to lieutenant colonel, a position in which he oversaw the deployment and redeployment operations for 2,500 soldiers. During a major power outage in St. Louis, he supervised National Guard relief efforts and provided 700 military police officers to the city. While a member of the National Guard, Tate earned a Bachelor of Science in liberal studies from Regents College in Albany, N.Y., and attended United States Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He retired as lieutenant colonel in 2010.
Before becoming chief of police at the University of St. Thomas in 2014, Tate served as a police officer for the University of Arkansas Police Department in Fayetteville and then as a patrol captain and assistant chief of police for the Lamar University Police Department in Beaumont, Texas.
“University police departments really lend themselves to the concept of community policing,” Tate said. “They’re not like working for the city or county, where you go from call to call to call. You have an opportunity to have a genuine partnership with students, staff and faculty. Community policing builds trust and credibility between the police department and the community we serve. You learn so much more about whom you’re serving and working with, and they learn more about us and appreciate that sometimes our officers are in difficult situations and have to make decisions very quickly. When the community can sort of put themselves in your shoes, it’s a win-win for the police department and the community.”
At St. Thomas, a private Catholic university with an enrollment of 3,700 students, 14 percent of whom live in campus residential facilities, Tate had to write job descriptions and policies for a university that never had a police department. He also had to educate the community about how they could benefit from having campus police. While one of his newly hired officers was in training, Tate helped patrol campus and captured two armed-robbery suspects after a student reported seeing them in response to an emergency alert that Tate issued.
A 90-minute training session on surviving an active shooter that Tate developed for the university president and cabinet was so successful that the president mandated that all full-time employees receive the training. “It’s very effective,” Tate said. “People understand what they have to do if they’re in an active-shooter situation.”
In addition to building the department to its current staff of nine officers plus administrative support, Tate established relationships with local, state, federal and international agencies. He’s a member of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, the Houston Area Police Chiefs Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and a board member of the Houston chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
He will maintain that network at RUPD, which he considers to be “a professional police department that is well-staffed and well-equipped.” He hopes to expand its community outreach program by adding a “coffee with the chief” program that will give students, staff and faculty an opportunity to meet with him in an informal setting to talk about various issues and provide ideas on how RUPD might better serve the community.
Kirby noted that Tate is inheriting a “very high-functioning” police department that is fully staffed and has received kudos for arresting suspects while they were still on or nearby campus in a couple of recent cases. The department just received national accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc.
“I’d like to thank Capt. Clemente Rodriguez for serving admirably as interim chief of police since February while we conducted the national job search for Chief Whitehead’s successor and commend RUPD for their hard work and recent successes with arrests,” Kirby said.
RUPD currently has a team of one chief of police, two captains, seven sergeants, 21 officers and nine dispatchers, along with staff for security, parking enforcement and administrative support. Rice Emergency Medical Services is also part of RUPD.