Five questions for Marlon Lynch

Career law enforcement leader oversees CU Boulder’s new public safety organization

Marlon Lynch is new to CU Boulder, but not new to public safety administration in university communities. Before joining the campus in March as associate vice chancellor for public safety, he served as the vice president overseeing public safety at Michigan State University since early 2021.

Five questions for Marlon Lynch
Marlon Lynch

His 30-year career also has included serving in similar leadership roles at the University of Utah, New York University and the University of Chicago. He served as chief of police at Vanderbilt University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and North Carolina A&T State University.

He is a former president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and the current chair of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

His higher education journey began with criminal justice degrees: a master’s from Boston University, a bachelor’s from Michigan State. The latter’s Black Alumni last year honored him with a Distinguished Alumni award.

“I’m not an emotional person, but I was touched by that,” he said. “That peer recognition means a tremendous amount, so to receive that award was significant.” His oldest son recently joined him as a Spartan alumnus.

In his free time, Lynch enjoys golfing, which he took up during the pandemic. “It was about the only time you could get outside and have some engagement,” he said. “So I picked it up. It doesn’t frustrate me like I’ve seen it do to others. I enjoy the four hours out there just playing.”

He also loves traveling with his family and is a huge sports buff.

1. How were you first drawn to law enforcement?

When I began college, I was not a criminal justice major, but a business major. As I was there, I started to realize the reality of what the job could be. Because I’m not one to sit behind a desk all day, the business world was not attractive.

I have family members with careers in law enforcement and public safety. Growing up where I did, in Chicago, there were not-so-positive experiences with law enforcement, but there were good ones as well. This was definitely the right choice for me, though not the initial choice.

2. You started in your new CU Boulder role at the beginning of March. What items are on your to-do list?

There are a lot of good things in place. The creation of the Division of Public Safety is an acknowledgment that the university recognizes the role of not just police, but of the accompanying public safety functions and services. So it’s creating that opportunity to have additional services available for our community. They’ll be integrated so they are working together. And they’ll continue to evolve with the needs of the campus and the campus community.

Because the organizational structure is new – to those who were here, as well as to the community – there will be an educational component, to let people know who we are and what we do. There’s also a component of strategic planning, which will expand a little more beyond what it may have been in the past.

There’s also a community engagement component, as well as security technology – how it’s implemented and utilized – and event management, with security procedures that will continue to evolve based on the impact on the campus and the community.

A lot of it is getting to know the staff within the division, and also colleagues, students, faculty and staff at the university. These are all parallel processes.

Five questions for Marlon Lynch
CU Boulder's Division of Public Safety.

3. As you said, the Division of Public Safety is a new entity at CU Boulder, consisting of CU’s police department, event and emergency management, flight operations and a new office of threat assessment. What are the advantages of having these units teamed together?

Some of these units were already together, but it was more in a traditional police department structure. The new component is the threat assessment unit, which is tracking internal and external threats for the community. The new division formalizes the connections between the existing teams that were in place.

What has been extremely clear to me in my career, especially in the last five years, is that the community told us we should not always lead with police. Having a police department is a good thing, but the community would like to have other avenues for public safety as well. So it’s not about services instead of police, but services in addition to police, and integrating them so we’re not always leading with just one.

Public safety is loosely defined. In some settings, it means police and fire, and maybe there’s some cross training with that. In other settings, public safety would be a suite of first responder services:  police, fire, emergency medical services, emergency management.

So public safety itself is not new, it’s how the entity is organized. I think higher education is starting to pick up on that. Traditionally, the lead for the public safety function would report to the CFO, or something along those lines. Now the trend is having a public safety officer in that position.

4. Is there something that every member of the CU Boulder community should understand about the role they play in public safety?

Safety is a shared responsibility. It’s not just the responsibility of the Division of Public Safety to help create a safe environment. The line, “If you see something, say something,” is very relevant. How are we contributing to make this university safe? Are we not propping doors open? Are we not witnessing acts we know are below our standards and not intervening?

But it is most definitely a shared responsibility, and I think that should be communicated broadly, because it’s impactful. Just being a member of society, we all have a responsibility to contribute. If we’re just relying on a group of individuals for all our safety at all times, there’s probably not going to be great success. We need assistance.

Like most things on a college campus, there has to be collaboration and engagement. They all go hand in hand.

The message should be delivered regularly, and that happens in discussions like this, on social media, while walking through campus and having in-person conversations.

5. What are your early impressions of Boulder and the CU Boulder campus?

It’s beautiful! That’s what jumps out at you first: even when you are approaching the campus, that view from 36. I’m from Chicago, which doesn’t have anything that looks like this.

The community has been very accepting. I can appreciate the campus culture in place. We have some good things going on already and I think we can build off those. And it’s been very clear the support is there for the Division of Public Safety.

I’m really looking forward to being an actively engaged member of CU Boulder and the CU system – they go hand in hand. There are a lot of opportunities for us to be able to make our communities and our campuses safe, but also with the reality of knowing it won’t be done alone. It will be in partnership with our campus community and the neighboring community.

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