Becoming a police chief was never part of Matthew Carmichael’s plan. When he was asked to step into the role after the infamous 2011 pepper-spray incident that catapulted the University of California, Davis, into the spotlight led to his former boss being placed on administrative leave and then terminated, he said “no.” But university officials were persistent.

Carmichael served in the chief role on an interim basis until last spring, when, following a national search, officials decided he was the best person for the position and dropped “interim” from his title.

And although this former municipal police detective never expected to find himself leading his beloved department, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone else could have accomplished what he has.

With the media still swarming the campus, Carmichael quickly rolled up his sleeves and set to work on damage control.

“As a department, we do a lot of great things, but like any other department, we make some mistakes too,” Carmichael said. “The way forward was to acknowledge our mistakes and then work together with our community to move forward from there.”

While the media portrayed a police department and campus community at odds with each other, Carmichael worked to bridge the divide and dispel the “us-versus-them” perception by listening to students, faculty and staff, and inviting them to help him transform the department into one they could be proud of.

“Look, we know how to investigate crimes and catch the bad guys, but that’s 20 percent of the job,” he said. “That other 80 percent requires learning what the community wants from us and providing it, and that means listening.”

He invited students, faculty and staff members to share their concerns, questions and ideas. He also listened to recommendations from the various groups who reviewed the pepper-spray incident and audited the department. For example, a report by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso criticized the unit’s policies and procedures as being out-of-date.

Carmichael turned to Lexipol, a consulting company that specializes in law enforcement risk management and policies and procedure development. Once Lexipol had developed new policies and procedures for the department that reflected current best practices and changes in the law, Carmichael turned to his officers and members of the campus community at large to review them. Those meetings — many of which lasted late into the night — led to numerous revisions.

“It was an opportunity for us to collaborate with those we serve and develop policies and procedures that reflect and represent the campus community,” he said.

Carmichael also created a Student Advisory Council, which includes student leaders and others interested in campus safety issues. He meets with the council once a month. Carmichael’s role is simply to listen to students, who may bring complaints, concerns, ideas and questions. Once those meetings are over, Carmichael makes sure that what was discussed isn’t simply forgotten.

“Some brilliant ideas have come out of those meetings,” he said. “But it also creates a sense of connectedness between my department and the community.”

He has also found a way to involve members of the campus community in the hiring process for his unit. In the past, the department’s hiring panel incorporated members of the campus community at large, but about 80 percent of the panel was composed of members of his unit, Carmichael explained. Now, the panel is 80 percent campus community — including students, faculty and staff from other departments — and 20 percent campus safety staff.

“That way gives the community an honest voice in the department,” he said.

In addition, Carmichael created a cadet program for UC Davis students who are interested in law enforcement careers. The program is now in its third year and has led to various cadets receiving sponsorship from the department to enroll in the police academy. Several of those students now work for the department.

“In 10 years, if we keep this up, this department will look very different,” he said. “We’re essentially building the department from our own community.”

Carmichael is happy to share the details of the program with anyone wishing to start a cadet program on their campus. In fact, he’ll not only invite you to audit his program, but will also go to other campuses to advise them on how to do so, he said.

For more information, you may contact Matthew Carmichael at mecarmichael@ucdavis.edu.