Police chief has two roles

(FIUSM File Photo)

Photo by Alexia Escalante

Pattrik Simmons/Contributing Writer

While many students and faculty have received a first-time welcome to the University, one former student received a welcome back – and in a big way.

Alexander Casas, a University alum and current professor, is the FIU Police Department’s new chief police, replacing Bill King whose six year tenure ended this past summer.

“So many paths, that are significant to me in my life, cross here at FIU. So [the position] was a great fit for me, personally and professionally. And that’s a rare thing to get, so that was a good opportunity for me at a time when this department is growing,” said Casas, in an interview with Student Media.

The University’s senior vice president and chief financial officer, Kenneth Jessell, chose to hire Casas because of his “professional experience, his leadership abilities and his commitment to community-based police service.”

“Chief Casas certainly knows the Miami-Dade community and, as an alumnus of FIU and as an adjunct faculty member, knows the FIU community as well. In our discussions, I was very impressed with his vision of how to meet the needs of FIU students, faculty and staff. He is committed to making sure that the FIU Police Department is professional and performs at the highest level, and that students, faculty and staff on all campuses know that their safety is first and foremost,” he said.

In regards to Casas’s new position, Jessell said, “I expect to see greater emphasis on programs to encourage safety and security; increasing awareness of crime and crime prevention. Part of this will be the greater visibility of our police officers. I have already noticed more officers on foot patrol.”

Born and raised in Miami, Casas stayed true to his roots and graduated from the University with a bachelor’s in criminal justice in 2004. He later received a master’s degree in leadership from Nova Southeastern University.

“I started FIU when I graduated high school in ‘86. I stopped in ‘89 because I started my career in law enforcement and then went back to school probably ten years later, taking a class or two at a time because that’s what work would permit me,” he said.

Casas has been in law enforcement for 21 years, and was a major in the Miami-Dade Police Department. Throughout his life, he had to balance time between his family, career and education.

“There are a couple of things that affect us as officers. We’re always balancing our priorities. I put aside my education for a while to further my career,” said Casas.

Doubling as both the police chief and an adjunct professor, he currently teaches Terrorism and Homeland Security online in his off-time, giving him the ability to share with his students what he has learned throughout his career.

“The one thing that most impressed me was his knowledge on the subject of terrorism. I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single class where I left thinking, ‘Man, that was a waste of time.’ Since most of the material was historical, in order to keep us engaged he would constantly relate it to something that the majority of the class would be more familiar with,” said sophomore David Rafuls, a criminal justice major.

Casas recognizes the importance of campus security, and he wants students to feel safe at all times – whether it is walking on the sidewalk or attending an event.

“It’s very important to have strong security in a university setting. University policing is one of those things you want to be in a constant state of readiness because it’s a place where there are a lot of students and symbolic targets here — everything from tragedies we’ve heard at other universities that have occurred to potential terrorist activity,” he said. “This is one of those locations that you always want to be prepared for that. Anywhere that you have thousands of people at once, you need to take an active role in public safety.”

When asked what he would do to prevent  tragedies like the death of former student Kendall Berry, who was fatally stabbed on campus in 2010, Casas assured that his department is “absolutely committed” to the prevention on such incidences.

“It’s hard to say that what happened to one person will never happen to another, because anywhere you have this many people it’s hard to guarantee absolutes. Now, what I will guarantee is that, as a department, we will do anything possible to maintain a presence to hopefully deter those things from occurring.”

Currently, as the new police chief, Casas is overseeing the department operations, but he says that changes are on the way.

“What I’m doing now is evaluating the operation. It’s hard to say what changes I’m making. It’s not that I’m making any changes, I’m just furthering what was started by my predecessor, Chief Bill King. And that is [to] support our officers, encourage and expect professionalism, and do it in a way that they’re doing their job proudly,” he said.

He also wants to give more access to parents and provide them more information regarding their child’s safety on campus.

“As parents, even though our children are now adults and we’re sending them off to university, they’re always going to be our children. One thing that I expect to do is to be available. I will make it a priority to be available to parents to address their concerns and answer their questions. If they feel that their sons and daughters are safe, we’re absolute doing our jobs,” said Casas, whose own son is currently a student at the University.

As for his future as police chief, Casas would like to implement and encourage community-oriented policing, which caters to specialized units; for example, he would like to create a unit specifically for housing.

He hopes to see an increase in personnel as well.

“Community-oriented policing is a recipe for success here. One of the things I intend to do is have officers dedicated to just the housing area. I can see other types of specialized units to help with events. I also see the department with additional staffing, matching the ratio of students to officers that is adequate for the student population.”

Rafuls, a former student of Casas, is confident in his former professor’s new job, stating, “Knowing that he is now heading up our on-campus police force makes me much more comfortable with the overall safety of our university.”

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