With a strong message of working toward a positive future, the University of Wisconsin Police Department welcomed its new chief, Kristen Roman, at a swearing in ceremony at Union South Wednesday.

Roman takes up her new position in a time not wholly different from three decades ago, amid both national debate on police activity and campus protests over politics and civil rights.

Susan Riseling, former UWPD chief and current International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators executive director, said Roman is the right person coming at the right time for the department.

Riley Steinbrenner/The Badger Herald

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Riseling, who swore Roman in, acknowledged the recent challenges across the country and world with policing and how it is portrayed in national media.

“We chiefs lay the groundwork for other people to succeed,” Riseling said. “And then if you’re smart, you’ll step back and watch them shine.”

Roman has 27 years of experience on the force and said her top priority in taking up the new position is to build on the department’s already exemplary work. 

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She said her vision of an ever-higher-reaching department is attainable because she is not inheriting a department that needs “fixing.”

Instead, she said she is inheriting a department that has carved out a national reputation consistent with the Wisconsin Idea.

Former UWPD Chief Brian Bridges, who took up the job in the interim of Riseling’s retirement, reflected on the history of the department in the 1980s, when he joined UWPD.

“While the department’s leaders were dedicated to the university and the community, their philosophy on policing was affected greatly by the trauma of the riots that Madison saw earlier in their careers,” Bridges said.

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Bridges said though the department maintained safety as a top priority, issues like training, vehicles, pay, equipment and technology persisted until Riseling came to meet these demands in 1991.

Riseling said today, she finally understood what her immediate predecessor Ralph Hanson meant when he said he felt like he was turning over his baby to her when she became the new chief. Riseling advised Roman to take care of her people.

“I think that leadership’s really about the future,” Riseling said. “It’s not about the past. It’s about keeping your team focused on an agenda, motivated to do their best to reach that goal, especially when there’s consequences. And today, there’s a lot of consequences.”

Riley Steinbrenner/The Badger Herald

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Roman was also complimentary of her mentors — especially the ranking female officers in a largely male-led profession — who helped her on her road to leadership, including her mother.

“I know that if she was still with us, she would be here today, and who, along with my father, would be one of the proudest in the room,” Roman said.

UWPD spokesperson Marc Lovicott said Roman was part of a nationwide search by members of the campus community to find a new chief. Lovicott said Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller made the final decision.

Lovicott said issues like the national and campus unrest were taken into account during the decision-making process but UWPD is and has been in great shape.

“Granted, there’s a lot out there right now, and there are a lot of challenges to face, but from everything I’ve heard, the chief plans to just keep the momentum going as our department’s moving forward,” Lovicott said.

To students, Roman said she looks forward to meeting and engaging with them while listening to their concerns.