Our path forward: Emory Police Department

By Chief Cheryl Elliott | Emory Report | Aug. 31, 2021

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Emory Police Chief Cheryl Elliott is committed to connecting with members of the Emory community and earning their trust, confidence and respect.

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As Emory welcomes our community back to campus, I want to introduce myself as chief of the Emory Police Department (EPD) and reinforce the entire department’s commitment to serve, protect and lead by example.

I have spent more than two decades with EPD and have more than 35 years of law enforcement experience. I returned to Emory in May 2021 as the chief. Over the past few months, EPD has focused on increasing our connection with Emory’s diverse community as informed leaders in higher education policing. To us, that means earning your trust, confidence and respect through positive interactions and consistent communication.

On my first day, I asked the EPD staff to reflect on how their actions could cultivate trust and confidence. Every interaction EPD has with any member of the Emory community should foster respect. Central to this idea is EPD continuing to treat people with dignity and respect regardless of ethnicity, race, class or sexual orientation. By incorporating procedural justice principles, EPD will foster confidence that the community is being treated fairly.

Creating a new culture

Over the past year, questions about the legitimacy and value of our nation’s public safety agencies have reached a crescendo, with many people demanding a new approach. Operating at a high level of ethical trust is the first step in creating a culture where officers earn respect from the community. For more than a year, Justice & Sustainability Associates Inc. (JSA) has worked with Emory and EPD to create higher policing standards based on evidence-based models. JSA has reviewed our policies, procedures and practices, and made suggestions based on well-researched and validated best practices, such as President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Now, EPD has reached the critical stage of acting on JSA’s recommendations.

Our path forward

Aligned with the Emory mission of applying knowledge in the service of humanity, EPD will actively partner with the International Association for Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA); will pursue certification from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA); and will model best practices recommended by President Obama’s Task Force. Most importantly, we will strengthen connections with the Emory community.

Here are a few examples of our commitment to redefining public safety at Emory:

  • Increased communication: EPD will host more listening sessions and focus groups to understand how effectively we are meeting the needs of this community. Look for invitations to join these conversations throughout the year.
  • Continuous improvement: We invite students, faculty, staff and community members to help EPD identify public safety challenges, as well as potential solutions. Our redesigned website also will include options to share feedback and stay connected.
  • Community partnership: We will invite the community to engage with EPD new hires early in their career at Emory.
  • Mediation and dialogue circles: When there are questions or complaints about police procedures or interactions, the Emory community can connect with an officer in a mediated discussion. For more information, please email us at police@emory.edu or visit the feedback section of our website.
  • Feedback survey: We will seek feedback on policies and practices, acting on what we have learned as part of our annual climate survey.
  • Use of evidence-based policing standards: We will adopt nationally-recognized standards designed to increase confidence in our work and our officers.
  • Prioritizing de-escalation: EPD will include even more de-escalation training tactics.

Get to know Chief Cheryl Elliott

As a native of Atlanta, Georgia, I have personal experiences of being followed in retail establishments and on public transportation. I have lived through legalized segregation and have had guns fired at me in the 1970s when trying to use a public bathroom outside of Dublin, Georgia, due to the color of my skin. These experiences have shaped my life and have reinforced my commitment to redefining public safety.

Prior to returning this spring, my previous Emory law enforcement career spanned 23 years, culminating in my appointment as deputy chief at Emory before retiring in 2017. Since then, I have maintained an active role in policing through research and training. My passion for improving the profession led me to consult higher education police departments and public safety agencies on procedural justice principles and recruitment and retention strategies. I proudly bring that expertise back to the Emory community that has played such a large role in my career and my life.

As chief of police, I am here to ignite bold changes that enhance public safety across Emory. I am prepared to build on the foundation of excellence exemplified by the Emory police officers, locksmiths, public safety officers and dispatchers who proudly serve this community 24 hours a day. As part of our return to campus safety plan, EPD leaders recently attended offsite training on procedural justice and improving community engagement. In EPD, you have an agency that is well-trained, professional and committed to de-escalation. These talented professionals would give their lives to protect this vibrant and diverse community.

Our EPD culture is transforming. Every police officer, dispatcher, security service staff and public safety staff will be focused on greater engagement with the Emory community. Earning your trust has been essential to my time at Emory. Upon my return, I have received overwhelming support from current and former community members, including members of my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc. EPD is focused on building stronger partnerships through collaborative problem-solving — and we will enhance that culture through procedural justice. 

In conclusion, we must build bridges. Now, more than ever, Emory Police is ready to lead the way on a national level. More connects us than divides us. But in times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.

Chief Cheryl Elliott
Emory Police Department