University of Connecticut Chief of Police Hans Rhynhart will be stepping down from his chief post next April while retaining his role as Associate Vice President of Public Safety, effectively splitting the combined positions, according to email documents obtained by The Daily Campus via FOIA.
The joint appointment of Chief of Police and Associate Vice President of Public Safety began in 2016, and Rhynhart stepped in as both at that time after serving as interim police chief. In his resignation announcement, he said he believes it is now necessary for the positions to become independent of each other.
“Both [positions] have grown considerably since 2016 with the addition of a residential facility in Stamford, the merging of public safety functions at UConn Health and UConn, the opening of the Hartford campus as well as the addition of the Department of Environmental Health and Safety,” Rhynhart wrote. “The scope and complexity of both, division and department, require significant oversight and leadership to be truly effective and cutting edge.”
These expansions influenced Rhynhart’s decision to step down, as he said he believes there needs to be one point-person for just the department so that other administrators can fulfill their duties elsewhere. Doing so, Rhynhart said, allows the AVP of Public Safety to develop their own visible role in the community.
“The police department, much like the fire department already has, needs a person who can focus 100% of their time on providing the delivery of services the community needs,” Rhynhart said in an email to The Daily Campus. “It is most important now to have that focus and leadership, not only for our communities, but also for the dedicated professionals who work in the department. It is also important for our communities to see public safety as more than the police department, by having both titles, chief and associate vice president, many people lose sight of the thoughts above and the great work the rest of the division does to enhance health and safety at UConn.”
“The Chief provides direct leadership for the Police Department; the AVP oversees every unit within the Division,”
UConn President Thomas Katsouleas further highlighted the importance of separating the two positions in an email sent to colleagues earlier this month in support of Rhynhart’s resignation. “The Chief provides direct leadership for the Police Department; the AVP oversees every unit within the Division,” Katsouleas wrote. “Continuing to have one individual responsible for both roles is no longer practical from an organizational and management perspective.”
Katsouleas praised Rhynhart for his leadership in both roles and his ability to think critically about how developments within the department and worldwide will affect the university.
“He is a strong and progressive leader who has shown vision, foresight and a profound devotion to the safety and health of our community. He recognizes that as communities and their needs evolve over time, police departments must also evolve to meet them,” Katsouleas wrote. “And that it is possible to do so without diminishing the department’s fundamental mission of guardianship of the community and effective enforcement of law.”
Rhynhart said he sees the decision to step down as an important first step in fostering important conversations between law enforcement and the communities they serve, a type of dialogue he feels to be necessary given the recent events regarding police brutality.
“We are living during a transformational moment in history as we rethink and sometimes relearn the role of police departments in our communities,” Rhynhart said. “The search for a new chief can help lead us down a road of understanding and healing. Both are incredibly important right now.”
Rhynhart, who publicly opposes calls by organizations at UConn to defund the police department, said he believes the separation of the two roles will help to disperse the tasks police officers work on at UConn.
“My take on it is we should be working to deemphasize the role that police officers have on our campuses on matters that fall outside of traditional law enforcement, not necessarily focusing on the reduction of resources,” Rhynhart said. “I have committed publicly that I am in support of reallocating resources from public safety as long as the receiving organization is able to enhance the services we already provide…We need to continue to expand our thought on health and safety and not restrict it to a police-centric mentality.”
Rhynhart notified Scott Jordan, the executive vice president for administration, of his intent to step down in June, but delayed sharing the news with colleagues until late August as to keep efforts focused on reopening UConn amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Lloyd Blanchard, who serves as the Associate Vice President for Budget, Management, and Institutional research, will chair the national search committee for Rhynhart’s successor. The details of that committee have not yet been finalized.
“This [transition] is a powerful and important opportunity to have now as communities across the country are asking themselves, ‘what do we want our police departments to do?’” Rhynhart said. “A public and participatory selection process is important as we rethink and relearn the role of policing in our communities.”