Robert Dahlstrom

UTPD’s assistant chief of police Terry McMahan has been working for the UT System for 30 years.

Photo Credit: Louis San Miguel | Daily Texan Staff

UTPD’s assistant chief of police Terry McMahan’s extensive role appears simple on paper – assist the chief, keep the budgets balanced and coordinate – a role he has filled for 13 of his 30 years in UT System’s police force.  But McMahan said his job is constantly evolving, and with a new chief of police coming in, things look like they will continue to shift. Somethings, however, will always remain the same. 

“I think there’s been a lot of change in my career,” McMahan said. “But I think everything we need to know about staying safe we learned in kindergarten.”

McMahan said he remembers when police work was done with a pen and pencil, and when coordination between state, federal and local law enforcement agencies – a common practice in post 9/11 America –  was a rare occurrence.   

“9/11 changed law enforcement so that we communicate better with each other,” McMahan said. “Back in the old days, each law enforcement worked their own cases, and we really didn’t talk about our cases with other police entities. Nowadays, if we got something happening on the campus, it may likely be happening in the city. If we communicate better with one another, we’re able to solve crime easier.”

Similarly, changes in technology have left a lasting impact on policing, and McMahan said things like social media have boosted the need for transparency and student outreach.  

“Technology has really sky-rocketed, like in everything else,” McMahan said. “When I was on the streets, we really didn’t have in-car cameras. We didn’t have Facebook or Twitter back then either. We try really hard to put ourselves out there through that medium as well.” 

McMahan said one of UTPD’s highest priorities is student concern around campus, and said the department has taken steps to ensure their ears and doors remain open to students. 

“We’re always interested in student voices” McMahan said. “For instance, we meet with student government and try to provide them with the best information we can to help them make their decisions, and our crime prevention unit meets with a lot organizations.”

McMahan said he is confident David Carter, UTPD’s new chief of police, will continue to uphold the standards of transparency and outreach laid out by his predecessor, Robert Dahlstrom. 

“It’s always good to have your ears open to what students are saying, Chief Dahlstrom did an excellent job of that,” McMahan said. “I think chief Carter will continue that. He’s a solid individual with a great reputation.”

Members of student government said UTPD shows a strong presence at their assemblies, noting that high ranking officers including McMahan and Dahlstrom are often in attendance.

“We had a representative that wanted to take on the police’s stance on marijuana,” said Taylor Ragsdale, a recent graduate who majored in finance and economics. “They wanted to lower marijuana on the priority list. While that resolution was not well-received by the rest of the assembly, UTPD did have a presence at the hearing and Chief Dahlstrom gave his own opinions on the matter.” 

Other representatives say UTPD’s efforts to boost outreach and education are still an issue. 

“I think [student outreach] needs to be addressed in the upcoming years, particularly making sure that students who live off campus, especially freshman, know how to keep themselves and their property safe,” said Andrew Houston, a resident assistant and student representative for the School of Architecture. “Organizations need to ensure their members are safe and understand all the resources that are available to them. The bridge needs to be built from both sides.”

McMahan majored in math and chemistry at UT Permean Basin, and admitted he did not know what he wanted to do while in college. 

“Some people know what they want to do with their lives from the get go. I’m wasn’t one of those people,” McMahan said. “I’m not a traditional student. I was out of high school for ten years working the oil fields before I went to college.”

McMahan began his policing career as a part-time dispatcher for the UT Permean Basin police department, eventually becoming chief of police for the department, a position he held for 10 years before transferring to UTPD. McMahan said the experience he gained heading a small police department has been invaluable to the work he does within UTPD. 

“I had a chance to come to the UT system police academy,” McMahan said. “I did that thinking it would be a few extra bucks a month while I earned my degree. Eventually, I became chief of police there. The job was really challenging.” 

Dahlstrom said McMahan’s knowledge of chemistry often helped the department respond to chemically related incidents around campus. 

“I cannot count how many times we had an incident at one of the labs that Terry was able to say ‘that is really bad stuff,’ or that [it didn’t pose much of a threat],” Dahlstrom said.“Terry always came through whenever something was needed. He knows how to balance the needs of the University with the needs of the employees. His goal is to help people.”

McMahan said his time away from department centers around his sons, one of whom will be a freshman in the fall. He enjoys sports like golfing, fishing and hunting. Typically, he roots for Texas teams, though he is partial to the San Antonio Spurs and University athletics.

Follow Alberto Long on Twitter @albertolong.

UTPD Chief of Police Robert Dahlstrom is retiring from law enforcement on May 31st. After his 36 years of being a police officer, Dahlstrom looks forward to spending time with his family and exploring Texas history during retirement.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

From a two-year stint in the Austin Police Department SWAT team to cleaning up gang-ridden streets in Southeast Austin in the early ‘90s, UTPD Chief Robert Dahlstrom has experienced just about all policing has to offer. On May 31, Dahlstrom will retire from law enforcement, closing out the final chapter in his 36-year-long career as a police officer. 

Dahlstrom said he is grateful to the University for giving him the opportunity to work at UTPD. He called himself “humbled” to have worked with great people in and outside the department, but also thanked his family for being supportive throughout his career.

“I think the other people I have to thank are my family for putting up with 36 years of missing family events when they really wanted me to be there,” Dahlstrom said. “36 years of not being there at night and on the evenings and weekends … I’ve missed holidays — my family’s been really good about that.”

Several of Dahlstrom’s colleagues commented on the chief’s legacy and influence on campus. 

Lt. Gonzalo Gonzalez of UTPD, a department veteran of 25 years, praised Dahlstrom for his commitment to service-oriented policing and student outreach. 

“Of all the chiefs we’ve had, Chief Dahlstrom is the guy who constantly reminds us that we’re here for the students,” Gonzalez said. “He stresses professionalism, and constantly reminds us to make connections outside the department and around the campus community.” 

Pat Clubb, vice president of University Operations, said Dahlstrom came to UT with a high degree of policing skill and competency. 

“What made [Dahlstrom] unique was that he was a proponent of self-education,” Clubb said. “He made sure each member of this campus community had the means to become educated in ways that empowered the individual to feel safe.” 

When asked what he thought was his biggest accomplishment at UTPD, Dahlstrom denied having accomplished anything on his own and praised his department. 

“I don’t think I’ve accomplished anything on my own,” Dahlstrom said. “I think the department has done a wonderful job and continues to do so everyday. For me, I’m most proud of the officers and staff at UTPD, and how much they care for the students. They do everything they can for them.” 

Dahlstrom said he hopes to spend much-needed time with his family during retirement, especially his wife and two grandchildren, Jackson and Lily. Dahlstrom has two married children who graduated from Texas A&M. Dahlstrom considers himself a history buff, especially in regard to Texas history — which he hopes to explore during retirement.  

“I’m interested in seeing how life has changed,” Dahlstrom said. “I like to see where we’ve been and how we ended up where we are now. [My wife and I] made a bucket list together. [We] really want to visit all 50 states, and see all 254 county courthouses in Texas.”

Dahlstrom said the biggest problems facing the department after he leaves will be to keep the campus community educated and preparing for new on-campus developments, like the upcoming medical school and engineering complex. 

Dahlstrom said keeping the community’s issues in mind should be the first priority for the new chief. 

“My biggest advice to the new chief would be to listen,” Dahlstrom said. “You can’t be a service organization without knowing the wants and needs of the community you work for. You have to be aware of the issues. Listen to what people have to say, and take that into account when you make any decision you make.”

Lieutenant Gonzalo Gonzalez has been with UTPD for nearly 25 years.Despite retention of police officer rates has always been low, Gonzalez still plans on giving more time to the University for as long as he can.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

When Lt. Gonzalo Gonzalez of UTPD was first employed by the University in 1981, he began as a dishwasher inside the Jester cafeteria. By the time he left the world of student dining, Gonzalez was a supervisor. His career as a police officer has played out in a similar manner. 

Gonzalez, who said his life-long interest in law enforcement began when he was four years old, is approaching his 25th year with UTPD. Gonzalez said he has personal and professional ties to the University and the campus community that have solidified his affinity for university policing. 

“I met my wife here and my oldest daughter graduated here ... I have a great job and I work for a great place,” Gonzalez said. “Some people want to retire from their jobs as soon as they can, not me. Not me.”

Gonzalez began as a guard at UTPD while enrolled as a student and later dropped out to attend the UT System Police Academy. He later earned a degree in criminal justice from Texas State University in San Marcos. He said his sense of loyalty, which he acquired from his father — an educator who taught in the same school district for 30 years — has kept him in the department and helped him climb the department’s ladder. Gonzalez is on his 12th year teaching at the police academy and said it is one of the best parts of his job. 

“I started at the bottom, and I wanted to move up,” Gonzalez said. “I knew I wanted to make some changes, so I knew I needed to promote. God willing, I’ll promote again.”

Retention of police officers has long been an issue within the department. When asked why he has remained with the department for as long as he has, Gonzalez cited UTPD chief of police Robert Dahlstrom’s emphasis on service-oriented professionalism as a motivating force. 

“That’s what I like about our department — it’s very service-oriented. Chief Dahlstrom is the third chief I’ve worked for, and I’m fixing to go into a new one,” Gonzalez said. “Of all the chiefs we’ve had, Chief Dahlstrom is the guy who constantly reminds us of that. We’re here for the students, to be professional and make connections. I just like going that extra mile.”

Dahlstrom said Gonzalez’s loyalty and commitment to the University make him invaluable to the department and his experience is a “tremendous help” in assuring the success of young officers.

“[Lt. Gonzalez] is always in a good mood, always doing what he can to help others either on campus or in the department,” Dahlstrom said. “Police work is all about helping people, and Lt. Gonzalez is all about helping people from his family, to UTPD officers to the campus and beyond.”

As Gonzalez approaches retirement, his sense of commitment to the University has only intensified. Gonzalez said he would like to extend his time at the University as long as he can. 

“I can promote one more time, so I don’t plan on retiring in three years,” Gonzalez said. “I think I can give more [to the] University. If you figure ‘81 to now, I’m going on my 32nd year of employment with the University. My roots are set here.”

John McCandless interviews for the open UTPD chief position Tuesday. Formerly employed at the University of Miami, McCandless sets his sights on Texas to continue his career. 

Photo Credit: Marshall Nolen | Daily Texan Staff

Chief John McCandless of the Miami University Police Department says UTPD Chief of Police Robert Dahlstrom will leave big shoes after retiring this semester, but is confident in his own ability to fill them.

McCandless spoke Tuesday afternoon and is the third of four candidates to come before a public forum as a possible replacement for Chief Dahlstrom. McCandless appeared before a committee of more than 20 students and faculty members from various departments to answer questions and speak about future plans for UTPD. 

In the forum, McCandless said UTPD’s community relations impress him.

“I cannot even imagine a reason a candidate would not want this position,” McCandless said. “The relationship that the University shares with the city of Austin, specifically the police department, is an example of how much effort the city and the University put into working together.” 

McCandless also spoke on the importance of department relationships with University organizations and staff. He said his experience and accomplishments at Miami University have done a lot to prepare him for a position at a bigger university.

“I obviously come from a smaller community,” McCandless said. “But at Miami, we worked diligently to gain resources that bigger surrounding departments did not have.” 

The committee will consider both campus-wide and sector-specific concerns when evaluating candidates and their fit for UT. 

Doug Bolin, artistic director and director of operations for University Events, said one of his department’s concerns is choosing a candidate who can maintain the balance between the safety of events and their adherence to UT tradition. 

“Our office works very closely with all the safety and security offices on campus in programs that are all about a sense of a community and the culture that is unique to this institution,” Bolin said. “There are a lot of traditions, and it’s important that we uphold those while keeping our UT community safe.” 

Luis Quintero, coordinator of Student Emergency Services, said his department relies directly on UTPD for information during investigations to fulfill its duties.

“We as a department need that cooperation,” Quintero said. “Although I would have preferred some of the questions be answered more directly, [McCandless] spoke of a lot of varying experience, and some of the examples of issues he’s had experience with are very common here.” 

Police Inspector II Bobby Gideon works for the UT Director of Police providing in service training primarily for officers serving in the UT System. The extensive training program is known for producing highly-trained officers who are frequently hired by other agencies.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

While having a highly trained police force on campus is essential to ensuring the safety of the University, UTPD’s focus on extensive training for its officers may make them attractive recruits for other police departments. 

Losing officers to other law enforcement agencies in the Austin area has long been a problem within the department, according to UTPD Chief of Police Robert Dahlstrom.

“UTPD officers are among the highest trained in the area,” Dahlstrom said. “Other agencies cherry pick our officers because we bring them in and train them very well.”

Lt. Darrell Birdett, who is in charge of police training at UTPD, said UTPD cadets are trained extensively — more so than at other police departments — and have the same policing responsibilities as non-university police officers.

“Training is usually a year-long process,” Birdett said. “They’re in the academy for six months and in field training for about four of five months after. We send our officers to training where other departments may send a detective or only a couple of individuals.”

Training an officer costs between $30,000 and $40,000.

“We have a very extensive training program,” said Pat Clubb, vice president for University Operations. “To put an officer through that training program and having them stay with us for only a few years after they graduate is very inefficient. We want to make sure that the officers we bring in are committed to stay for some duration — that make a commitment to the University.”

UTPD attempts to maintain a police force of 66 officers, according to Dahlstrom. Of the 50 officers UTPD lost in the last five years, 25 moved on to other law enforcement agencies in the area, Dahlstrom said.

“Round Rock Police Department seems to me like they grab more than anybody,” Dahlstrom said. 

According to Round Rock Police Department Public Information Officer Donall Carver, the Round Rock Police Department currently employs seven officers who began their careers with UTPD. 

Dahlstrom said pay discrepancy, geographic proximity to other departments and career opportunity are among the driving forces behind the turnover rate.

“Our officers don’t make enough to live in Central Austin,” Dahlstrom said. “So if you live in the suburbs, like most of our officers do, and you’re driving to UT everyday — 30 or 45 minutes depending on where you live — and all of a sudden you get an opportunity to get a take-home car and work five minutes from your home, that’s why we lose a lot to those smaller places.”

Recent pay incentives approved in January will help keep UTPD competitive with other law enforcement agencies.

“We have provided incentives, and we’re trying to upgrade the compensation in the police department to better represent those values and skills we would like to reward,” Clubb said.

Dahlstrom said the turnover rate will continue to be an issue, but maintains that the department is closer to being more competitive. 

“We have to be, or we’ll lose everyone,” Dahlstrom said. 

After a day’s worth of increased security presence on campus, UTPD chief of police Robert Dahlstrom said investigations into Wednesday’s non-specific bomb threat will continue for the next several days.

“The increase in officers that you will see is standard protocol,” Dahlstrom said. “We will be monitoring buildings more closely than normally, 24 hours a day really. All that means is if you’re studying at two in the morning, don’t be shocked if an officer is checking that building out.”

The threat prompted a campus-wide safety alert urging the campus community to report suspicious activity. Dahlstrom said several reports were made, all of which were cleared by police.

“An hour ago we had a report of a suspicious package and it turned out to be someone’s gym bag,” Dahlstrom said. “That’s exactly what we want people to call in — something out of the ordinary, something that wasn’t there yesterday or has been sitting there for a while or looks abandoned. Use your common sense.”

Dahlstrom said the anonymous individual who made the threat has not been apprehended.

“We’re certainly still trying to find out who did it,” Dahlstrom said. “We’re still working that end of it.”

Authorities are asking the campus community to remain vigilant. Suspicious activity or unusual objects should be reported to UTPD at 512-471-4441.

UTPD chief Robert Dahlstrom says bomb-threat investigations will continue

After a day's worth of increased security presence on campus, UTPD chief of police Robert Dahlstrom said investigations into Wednesday's non-specific bomb threat will continue for the next several days.

“The increase in officers that you will see is standard protocol,” Dahlstrom said. “We will be monitoring buildings more closely than normally, 24 hours a day really. All that means is if you're studying at two in the morning, don't be shocked if an officer checking that building out.”

The threat prompted a campus-wide safety alert urging the campus community to report suspicious activity. Dahlstrom said several reports were made, all of which were cleared by police.

“An hour ago we had a report of a suspicious package and it turned out to be someone's gym bag,” Dahlstrom said. “That's exactly what we want people to call in-- something out of the ordinary, something that wasn't there yesterday or has been sitting there for a while or looks abandoned... use your common sense.”

Dahlstrom said the anonymous individual who made the threat has not been apprehended. 

"We're certainly still trying to find out who did it," Dahlstrom said. "We're still working that end of it." 

Authorities are asking the campus community to remain vigilant. Suspicious activity or unusual objects should be reported to UTPD at 512-471-4771.

A series of public forums beginning Friday will feature the final four candidates for the position of University of Texas Police Department chief. The candidates will address campus concerns and discuss the future of the department. 

The forums will round out the selection committee’s process, allowing candidates to address the public before one is selected for further recommendation. The committee hopes to finalize a decision by the end of the semester. Last semester, UTPD Chief Robert Dahlstrom announced his retirement effective next month.

David Carter, Assistant Chief of the Austin Police Department, will be the first candidate to be featured in the forum. It will be held at the Avaya Auditorium at 2 p.m. 

Michael Lauderdale, chairman of the selection committee and criminal justice professor, said candidate performance at the forums will weigh heavily on the committee’s consideration and encouraged students to attend. 

“The open forum is important as we want to make the candidates available to others that are not on the various interview committees,” Lauderdale said. “How the candidates present themselves in public, respond to questions and read our community interests will be an important factor in our considerations.”

The search committee will select a finalist based on a series of qualifications unique to the police chief position, according to a committee press release. Given the University’s large infrastructure, the chief of police must demonstrate a clear sense of leadership and administrative coordination. 

Lauderdale said the chief must be enthusiastic and able to work with a diverse group of people. The chief also needs to be comfortable working with other law enforcement entities.

“This is not a sleepy college town,” Lauderdale said. “We’re a very visible campus with big-time visitors, about one to two million [visitors] per year. We need to have a chief that is respected and works collaboratively with the Austin Police Department and the Travis County Sheriff’s office as well as the Texas Department of Public safety, the DEA and FBI.”

Lauderdale said the chief of police should approach the position with the educational goals of the institution in mind, utilizing the position to further the education of students and the mission of faculty and staff at the University. The forums will help indicate whether the candidates can fulfill such requirements.

Although the committee’s recommendation will single out a final candidate, the ultimate hiring decision rests with UT President William Powers Jr.

“We will have one individual come back to meet with President Powers,” Lauderdale said. “The president’s responsibility is to see if the individual meets his criteria. Our hope is that we can have all of this done and that we have chosen a candidate by the time graduation occurs. We’d like to have some transition before Chief Dahlstrom leaves the campus.”

In preparation for UTPD Chief of Police Robert Dahlstrom’s retirement in May, a committee in charge of overseeing the selection of UT’s next chief has narrowed their search to four final applicants. 

The committee, made up of numerous city, University and law enforcement officials, selected the finalists from a pool of 75 applicants. Each candidate is college-educated and has more than 20 years of experience in law enforcement, according to a UTPD press release. 

The finalists include Austin Police Department Assistant Chief of Police David Carter, Captain Melissa Zak of the Los Angeles Police Department, Miami University Chief of Police John McCandless and APD Assistant Chief of Police Raul Munguia. 

Carter has worked with APD for 29 years and has served as an assistant chief of police since 2007. Zak is a commanding officer with 21 years of experience who oversaw the Southwest region of Los Angeles. McCandless has 31 years of experience in law enforcement and has served as Miami University chief of police for nine years. Munguia has 26 years of experience and has served as an assistant chief of police for APD since 2010. 

Dahlstrom will end his seven-year stint as chief of police on a high note. In his time with UTPD, the department received accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement in 2007 and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement in 2008. Dahlstrom was voted police chief of the year by UT System directors in 2012 for exhibiting “leadership and quiet strength.” 

According to the press release, a series of two-hour public question-and-answer sessions with each finalist will be held throughout April. The candidates will take the public’s questions and discuss the future of UTPD. The sessions will be broadcast via a livestream provided by the University Office of the Associate Vice President for Campus Safety and Security

The first session will take place on April 5 at 1:30 p.m. The others are scheduled for April 9, 23 and 26.

Photo Credit: Colin Zelinski | Daily Texan Staff

A mass notification PA system linking all buildings to UTPD dispatch is the “missing link” in creating a safe campus environment for students and faculty, according to UTPD Chief of Police Robert Dahlstrom.

Over the last four years, Bob Harkins, associate vice president for campus safety and security, has advocated for a mass notification system that would fill a gap in campus-wide safety initiatives.  

“We’ve got about 160 plus buildings on campus, and what I want is for dispatch to talk to one or all the buildings at the same time,” Harkins said. 

Harkins said there are several roadblocks impeding his project, such as the four different types of fire alarm systems, or “fire panels,” installed throughout campus which have caused administrative issues.

“Technical issues have impeded this project,” Harkins said. “We’ve had the funding and the support. For example, each fire panel manufacturer wanted to protect its proprietary system, trying to deal with the various codes to make sure we’re not violating anything there.” 

UT’s large infrastructure has posed problems for effective communication, Harkins said, citing a failed attempt to set up a fully functional campus-wide wireless network that would have facilitated emergency announcements across buildings. 

“We thought we could do it wirelessly, but we couldn’t get the reliability,” Harkins said, “either because of interference or because of the volume of traffic on campus, we just couldn’t keep the system at an operational level I was comfortable with.” 

Dahlstrom is aware of the problem and said it is a gap in campus security that would supplement current communication systems like text message alerts and ad-hoc computer notifications that appear on computers during an emergency. 

“There are about nine sources of media we use other than the UT loudspeaker to keep the campus safe,” Dahlstrom said. “What we’re talking about is a missing link that we’ve been working on for a number of years, and I think within the next couple of years we’ll get it to where dispatch can talk to these buildings.”

Terry McMahan, UTPD assistant chief of police, said emergency transmissions can be muddled via UTPD text alerts as well as email and agreed the text messaging system has been problematic in the past. 

“We use email, but that’s slow,” McMahan said. “The problem with text messages is that we’re limited in the amount of characters we can use in any one text. So if we send out a massive text and it’s too long, it breaks them down into two. Sometimes the second will arrive before the first. That’s been problematic to work through.”

By the end of this year, roughly half of the 167 buildings on campus will have an emergency PA system installed, allowing building managers to make emergency announcements over a microphone. Full implementation of a mass notification system connected to UTPD dispatch will take longer to initiate, but Harkins agreed with Dahlstrom’s prediction of a two-year time frame. 

“We’re in the process of linking the Flawn Academic Center as our test case,” Harkins said. “Once we’ve done that, it gives us a pathway toward other buildings … When we finish with the mass notification system, we’ll really close the loop on everything.”