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Meet interim CSO Keith Squires

Squires approaches safety holistically by looking at the needs of the community and providing resources that can truly make a difference.

Keith Squires joined the University of Utah in July 2020 as executive officer to inaugural Chief Safety Officer Marlon Lynch. When Lynch announced his departure, Squires was asked to serve as interim CSO, effective April 1, 2021.

As an interim chief safety officer, Squires is responsible for the oversight and coordination of all campus safety initiatives, as well as supervising the university’s public safety divisions. Prior to joining the U, Squires served in Gov. Gary Herbert’s cabinet as the Utah Commissioner of Public Safety, retiring in September 2018 after 31 years of service as a law enforcement officer. He served as the homeland security advisor for Gov. Jon Huntsman and Herbert. Squires has served the state in many other capacities, including as director of the State Bureau of Investigation, assistant superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol and director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. He also served as a state and local law enforcement advisor to U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He holds a master’s degree in homeland defense and security from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, a bachelor’s degree in administration of criminal justice and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and FBI National Executive Institute.

Squires was recently appointed to the Personal Privacy Oversight Commission, a state board that regulates the use of surveillance and data-collection technology in Utah. He also volunteers for two nonprofit organizations: He serves as executive director of law enforcement and community engagement for the National Native American Law Enforcement Association, working with all Native American law enforcement agencies and with other federal, state and local public safety partners to combat violent crime in underrepresented communities. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Pioneer Park Coalition, advocating to assist and improve services for those experiencing homelessness, drug addiction and community violence.

We asked Squires about his role with University Safety and his thoughts about public safety in higher education.

Why is the U important to you?

In 2018, I was asked to serve the University of Utah and the McCluskey family as a member of the independent review team that investigated the events leading up to Lauren’s tragic murder. Participating in the independent review of Lauren’s requests and responding to her needs had a strong impact on me. I spent hours working on that as a volunteer—I was not compensated by the university so that I could genuinely do my job independently. Through that experience, I discovered that there were areas that the U definitely could improve upon related to police services and public safety. Two years later, in 2020, when a position opened for an executive officer with Marlon, I applied because I wanted to be a part of this team and help implement the recommendations we had made as part of that independent review.

Why is the role of a chief safety officer significant to the university?

The chief safety officer and the new organizational structure Marlon implemented allows the individual who leads this department to have a broader perspective of the university’s public safety services. It’s less police-centric and looks more at the whole complement of public safety services that can come together and serve our community. And so, for me, that fits right in with my background. I’ve had the experience and opportunities to serve not only in senior law enforcement roles within the state but also as emergency management director for the state. About five years ago, I also oversaw the creation of the first-of-its-kind community support services, where victims’ advocates and social workers were part of the team, collaborating with the state’s law enforcement agencies. This aligns with what we’re doing now here at the university.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for University Safety this year?

The biggest challenge this year is bringing the public safety teams together so we can best serve the community as one. We’ll be looking at how we can pool our resources and work together to meet the needs of the U community.

Another challenge is sharing the changes taking place with University Safety with the campus community. We have new crisis support specialists available to assist victims and we work closely with campus partners to offer support resources, we launched two new committees designed to incorporate members of the campus community into the planning and development of our department, we’re updating our operating procedures as part of our effort to earn accreditation, and we’re launching a new SafeU student ambassador program. This department is greatly different from the one I reviewed in 2018, but it’s going to take time for the community to see and feel all of these changes.

What did you learn in the past nine months in your role as an executive officer?

Being the executive officer was valuable to me because I was asked to help establish two very important committees—the Public Safety Advisory Committee and the Independent Review Committee. Both of those committees consist of student, faculty and staff representatives, and both have played a significant role in changes that are being made. One of these important changes involves improving our responsiveness and responses to the community’s needs.

Since it was established in fall 2020, the Independent Review Committee has examined every complaint that has come in about our personnel. This committee has an important voice—they look at how we responded to the complainant, how we investigated the allegations and what our findings were, and then what actions were taken. This is very unique to law enforcement, not only here at the University of Utah or the state of Utah, but also across the country. We’re investigating every complaint and sharing that with the IRC. Similar review boards at most agencies only look at things like use-of-force incidents and things that rise to a much higher level. So, this is unique in the fact that they are seeing everything.

For us, transparency is a core value. These committees are independent, and the fact that they can use whatever resources they need and provide any information they feel is useful and then share their recommendations and truly represent our community is crucial.

Many are asking universities to re-examine their campus police agencies and relationships with municipal police. Why is it important to maintain our own police department, and what are we doing to respond to feedback from the community?

Acting U Police Chief Jason Hinojosa recently reminded our officers and all members of our department about one of Sir Robert Peel’s principles of law enforcement from 1829: “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.”

Sir Robert Peel was a prime minister of the United Kingdom and is known as the father of modern policing. His words are more relevant than ever, reminding us of how critical public support is for policing to be successful. We hear loud and clear that the public wants to rethink the way law enforcement and criminal justice is done in this country. We are committed to being part of that process and to trying things in new ways.

While we are already redirecting resources to new services, including crisis support specialists, maintaining a police department that represents our community is essential in providing the best possible services that we can. If we are incorporated into the city’s overall police services, the U would lose the ability to address issues specific to its community. The University of Utah Police Department has the luxury of being able to do proactive work, as opposed to just responding to calls and taking reports and referring to insurance companies and things like that. Officers and the other personnel in each of our operational divisions want to be here and want to serve this community. Those who are passionate about that and join our team will provide the best services and protections possible.

How do you envision public safety in higher education in the years to come?

I envision public safety being a lot more connected to the community that it serves. That involves the committees that I mentioned earlier, creating student internships and practicums so they can be involved in our operations, taking advantage of the many resources and expertise available at the university, hosting listening sessions, and more. Including community members and being transparent is vital. I’m a firm believer in that—unless we’re talking about specific personnel information—everything should be an open book because the only way we can improve is by understanding what our community wants and needs.

What motivates you?

Since I was young, I always wanted to help others, and at this point in my career, I enjoy looking back at the opportunities I’ve had to work with others who also chose their career so they could help others in need. It’s important to me to find ways to proactively improve safety as much as possible. This work truly makes a difference. For all of us—no matter where we live, study, work or reside—one of the most important things is that we feel as safe and secure as we possibly can. My passion comes from wanting to be part of a team that provides those kinds of services, and our new vision really captures that: We are here to unite for a safe and empowered campus community. We have some fantastic things happening right now at the U related to improving people’s sense of safety that will make a difference far into the future.

What do you want students to know about you?

I want students to know that I want to be an advocate. I have two grandchildren who are attending the University of Utah right now, and I try to as much as possible to gain from their perspectives. I’m here to represent every member of our community and that has always been very important to me. I’ve been able to identify and help create services that have supported our refugee community here in Utah, as well as our homeless community because I believe in doing more than just responding to calls for criminal activity. We must approach safety holistically by looking at the needs of our community and providing resources that can truly make a difference.