Police Chief Jeff Christensen discusses crime on campus and his time as a University undergraduate

By Masaki Sugimoto

Police Chief Jeff Christensen has worked with the University Police for 31 years,

Christensen attended the University for his undergraduate studies and continued to

remain part of the campus following his graduation. His participation in student patrolling

while on campus led to his career in the police force. Now, Christensen works to reduce

crime and serve the community.

How has your time at the University influenced your current career?

My time at the University has influenced my career in law enforcement greatly. Working

in an environment that has so much diversity and representation from across the globe

has been a big influence on me.

What did you study while at the University?

My major when I started as a student was agricultural engineering. I made it through

calculus, and then I realized I wanted nothing to do with physics, so I transferred to the

college of Liberal Arts and Sciences and earned my bachelor’s in sociology with a

specialization in criminology. Then I was hired to work on my master’s at the College of

Education, Human Resource Development.

What has been your most memorable experience working with public safety?

There are so many, but I would just say unfortunately sometimes we see the worst of

the worst. But my most memorable experiences are all the times you see the best of the

best out of people in the community. What’s going on now with the community coalition,

its people, victims and survivors of terrible crimes, who work with us and have been so

strong. Just the caring attitude of the community and the incredible people who work at

Illinois and all throughout Illinois, faculty and staff students alike. Contact with students

is very significant; there are hundreds and thousands of relationships, and many of

those have gone on past the time of graduation, and we still stay in touch. So that’s

rewarding.

How did you decide you wanted a career in the police force?

Well, me and a close friend, we were out in college and talking. He was in restaurant

management, and I was in engineering. We were talking about going into policing

because he thought it would be pretty neat, every day would be different, and you got to

help people. That was the turning point; seeing patrol really convinced me and working

hand­in­hand with the UIPD within student patrols. The guy that I ended up having a

conversation with, he became a police officer in the Chicago suburbs.

What are the usual crimes you encounter while working with public safety?

Minor crime, if you look in terms of quantity, is property tax, so we see things like theft,

property damage, stuff like that. Major crime, in terms of impact, are crimes against

people, such as aggravated battery, robberies and sexual assaults.

Sexual assault has been a big topic of conversation on campus. As a member of

the public safety department, how do you best deal with it or help to stop it on

campus?

First of all, sexual assault is an under­reported crime. We are seeing a greater

frequency in reporting because of such national initiatives, such as “It’s on Us” and Vice

President Biden coming to campus. So that’s a good thing, but it is up to the survivor if

they’re willing to report to the police or not. As an institution, our goal is to go to great

efforts to do programming and try to change attitudes and develop folks’ thinking

process. This means teaching that “no means no,” and that it is not acceptable. It is a

horrible crime; it’s a terrible crime, and unfortunately it happens more frequently than we

know because it’s been under­reported. But, with the national attention on it and federal

initiatives that have been done, I think we’re headed in a better direction to address this

very bothersome and tragic problem in our nation.

How can students stay safe as the year comes to an end?

I absolutely love the warm weather, but I am also haunted by it because we know that

crime can increase when more people are out. The best thing that people can do is take

away the opportunity to be victimized, which means do not leave your stuff unattended.

If you choose to drink, drink responsibly so you don’t increase the opportunity that you

will become a victim of a crime. The number one date rape drug is not roofies, it’s

alcohol. The other thing would be to watch out for each other. If you see someone who

needs help, call. We are here for students; students are the most important thing to us.

Call us, and we will check on them. If they have been drinking, that doesn’t mean that

they will get in trouble. We are going to get them the assistance they need.

What is your advice to University students looking to join the police force?

Call me, email me. I would love to chat. It is a very rewarding career. Some people say

this is a terrible time for law­enforcement because of some of the national events that

have happened because of the perception that people hold and the scrutiny that we’ve

been placed under the profession. But, quite frankly, it’s one of the best times because it

gives us a chance to develop and build better community relations. It is all about

community.

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