Kevin C. WhitlockAfter working for a park district for more than two decades, Kevin C. Whitlock decided to move into the higher education setting and accepted a position as director of public safety at St. Cloud State University.

“I did a lot of research on the position and the profession and found a lot of similarities between higher education campus safety and what I had been doing in the park district,” he said.

He began his new position on Aug. 18 — just before the start of the new fall semester. That didn’t give him much time to get acquainted with the campus, his new role and his staff. Despite that, Whitlock didn’t miss a single beat.

He carved out time to meet with key campus leaders and members of his department to find out the institution’s main safety needs and concerns. That helped the unit continue to operate smoothly and provide the level of service everyone was used to through the transition.

“At the start of the fall semester, there’s a whole lot that goes on at any institution. On top of that, we had to get our Clery reporting out of the way,” he said. “It was a bit of a whirlwind, but I thought it was imperative that I make time to connect with everyone early on so we could ensure the needs of our customers were properly met.”

Once that initial rush of activity began to subside, Whitlock promptly started looking ahead. Specifically, he sought ways to improve relationships between the campus community and the local community.

Top campus leaders had told him early on that they wanted to improve town-gown relationships. Like many institutions, the campus is surrounded by residential neighborhoods where many local residents who are not affiliated with the university live. So when students get rowdy, local residents tend to complain.

He began reaching out to local residents to learn their specific concerns and how they would like to see those concerns addressed. He also reached out to the local police department to find out how they could work more closely together to address safety issues in the areas immediately surrounding the campus.

In addition, some local youngsters were coming on campus, vandalizing property, and generally creating havoc that the university’s public safety department then had to spend time responding to.

“It turned out that what a lot of these youths wanted was access to campus, our facilities and events,” he said. “So we worked to find ways to meet those needs and make them see the university as an asset and partner.”

That’s where his former career in park service law enforcement came in handy. Whitlock has experience establishing outreach programs to bring members of the community together. For example, he established an internship program for black girls that focused on generating interest in law enforcement careers. He also partnered with a local school to facilitate educational events. And he ran a “Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs” campaign aimed at youngsters in the neighborhoods surrounding the parks in his district.

“Here at the university, we have a number of programs, such as those focused on curbing alcohol use, that could easily be extended to also serve younger students in the surrounding neighborhoods,” he said.

That’s the sort of thing that comes naturally to Whitlock. He considers himself a product of the Minneapolis park system and its myriad programs. As an adult, he volunteered as a youth coach so he could give back. It’s why he chose to go into park law enforcement.

Now, as a key player in improving town-gown relationships, that personal philosophy of giving back to the community will help him ensure that rather than having local residents resent the institution, they will come to appreciate everything it has to offer them.

For more information, you may contact Kevin C. Whitlock at kcwhitlock@stcloudstate.edu.