Chief didn't always want to be a cop

By Tori Gutt

From an early age, some kids just know what they want to be when they grow up. Once they learn to talk, they will tell anyone that they are going to be a firefighter, a doctor or a teacher. But this was not the case for the chief of police at the University of Northern Colorado.

UNC Police Chief Mikel Longman
Mikel Longman, the new chief of police at the University of Northern Colorado, comes to campus after spending 34 years at the Arizona Department of Public Safety. Photo by Tori Gutt.

Mikel Longman started as the new chief of police at UNC at the beginning of the spring 2010 semester. Longman comes to Greeley after 34 years of experience in Arizona law enforcement. Despite his long career in policing, Longman said he was not one of those 5-year-olds who knew he wanted to be a cop.

Longman grew up in Tempe, Ariz., where he attended Tempe High School. After high school, Longman said, he did not have a clear idea of what to do next. He enrolled in business classes at Mesa Community College.

“I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life,” Longman said. “I just meandered through the first couple years of community college with no real direction.”

While in school, Longman met an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer and went on a ride-along. After this experience, Longman said he knew he wanted to go into law enforcement. He started applying to police agencies all over Arizona. It just so happened that the Arizona Department of Public Safety contacted him first.

In 1976, after completing the academy at age 21, Longman worked as an officer on the Navajo reservation. Longman said that working in a small town with only one other officer was a great experience.

“I learned how to deal with people, talk with people and treat people,” Longman said. “This helped me grow up.”

Following his first stint as a DPS officer, Longman went to six months of paramedic training in 1979 to prepare him for his next assignment as an officer in the air rescue helicopter unit. Longman described this as one of the most exciting times he had as a DPS officer.

After his time in the helicopter unit, Longman was promoted to sergeant and eventually to lieutenant. He moved around the state of Arizona, working in various departments, from highway patrol to organized crime investigations. After years of working in the field, Longman took an administrative job as a division chief for the Arizona DPS before becoming the chief at UNC. This father of five and grandfather of seven said he was ready for something different.

“The kids are grown and doing well, and I was ready for a change,” Longman said. “If I don’t do this now, when am I going to do it?”

After traveling through northern Colorado, Longman said, he fell in love with the area. It just so happened that UNC was looking for a police chief. Longman applied. When Longman was offered the position, he said he was thrilled about the change of pace of working at a smaller agency. He said working for an agency with 15 officers on a university campus is much different from working for a department with 2,400 officers as in his previous institution.

“I like the fact that I will really know my employees and can contribute,” Longman said.

Dan Darnell, a UNC police officer, said he also likes the smaller size of the agency.

UNC PD Quick Facts

Goal: Provide a safe and secure campus

Number of officers: 15 certified officers, including Longman

Phone number: (970) 351-2245

Hours: 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

Headquarters: Gray Hall, central campus

View crime statistics

Source: UNC PD Web site

“It’s nice to have personal relationships with co-workers, including many of our bosses,” Darnell said. “That doesn’t happen at most agencies.”

Another trait that is unique to campus police organizations, according to UNC Officer Bryan Hogsett, is the need to comply with the Clery Act. This act requires campus police departments to publish an annual crime report and distribute it to students and university employees.

“The Clery Act really forces us to keep track of all the crimes on campus and be more involved with the campus community,” Hogsett said.

This community involvement is something that Longman said he loves about UNC PD. He said that the department is focused on community policing; the officers are actively engaged in the lives of those they serve.

When he is not working, Longman said, he spends his time exploring his surroundings and talking with those in the community — similar to what he does at work. This near constant involvement in policing may seem odd to some, considering Longman did not see this profession in his future until later in life.

“If someone would have told me years ago that I would be a chief of police one day, I would not have believed them,” Longman said. “But I love it.”