As a patrol officer, sergeant and investigator, Mark Simmons ‘08, M ’15 was – for many years and in many ways – one of the faces of the Rochester Police Department: on the beat, on the street, and in the public eye.
These days, the self-described journeyman is more of a behind-the-scenes presence in his new role: Deputy Chief of the Administrative Bureau.
Since his promotion to the position in October 2016, the 15-year veteran of the RPD has overseen all manner of administrative responsibility, with each duty intended to “keep the department running in the background.” That includes everything from budgeting to policy development to officer training to labor relations – and a whole lot more.
“There are a lot of out-of-the-box challenges that you wouldn’t expect,” he says. “The most challenging aspect is just being able to adapt and be fluid.”
Still, the goal is no different than when he patrolled the city’s streets: Excellent police work, he says: “To be able to help the men and women out in the field answer calls for service by making sure that they have training that they need, the equipment that they need.”
Finding the wins
It’s all about win-win situations for the deputy chief. If police officers have the support and resources they require, the public gets the policing and protection it deserves.
That commitment to public service was honed and refined during Mark’s successful completion of Keuka College’s master’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration.
“The College’s CJA program definitely helped me in my job as an administrator,” he says. “It gave me the opportunity to look at different processes within law enforcement – the opportunity to expand my knowledge in finding those win-win situations.”
Those situations can be hard to come by in an era where police activity is often under a public microscope. But what many observers characterize as undue scrutiny, Mark sees as increased transparency.
“With the advent of body cameras … people are more aware,” he says. “Violent crime is always an issue, but even trends with violent crime are down in last 10 or so years. (Policing) is not necessarily more difficult, it’s just more transparent.”
Still, social media can turn what would otherwise be a local challenge into a national issue, the deputy chief acknowledges.
“Trust between law enforcement and the community is a very fragile thing,” he says. “Someone can violate the public trust in Alaska and it affects officers here in Rochester. For the most part, we do a great job in Rochester. We have pretty good relationships – there’s always room for improvement, of course, but we have definitely seen improvement (already).”
That’s no accident. A few years ago, the 850-member RPD embarked on a reorganization aimed at strengthening ties between cops and community. The department went from two divisions to five in a move that put more officers on more city streets. The undertaking’s project coordinator? Mark Simmons.
“So far, the feedback is largely positive,” he says, citing an evaluation that was released earlier this year. “People like the fact that officers are dedicated to specific patrol beats. Officers also appreciate the fact that they are assigned to patrol beats … they have more ownership, more autonomy.”
Mark says the biggest obstacle he faced during the reorganization is that it coincided with his CJA coursework. You’ll never guess how he managed to juggle the two:
“I made it a win-win,” he says. (OK, maybe you did guess.) “My capstone paper was about reorganization within the agency. I took notes as I was going along. I talked about things that worked, things that didn’t work. It helped me learn as I went.”
Also helpful were College instructors.
“Professor (Frank) Colaprete was instrumental in helping me with my research project,” says Mark.
He also cites valuable guidance from adjunct instructor and Administrative Judge Craig Doran and Assistant Professor and Program Director of the Criminal Justice CPS Rich Martin, himself a onetime police supervisor with the RPD.
“As a former RPD guy,” Mark says of his one-time colleague, “he could relate to the challenges.”
Prof. Martin recalls Mark standing out almost immediately upon joining the Rochester force.
“It was evident right away that he was a natural leader and, as an officer, he was very well respected by everyone he worked with,” Prof. Martin recalls. “When he started to get promoted, it was no surprise, and I was very excited to see him advance in the department.”
As for Mark, there were likewise few surprises on his end as he navigated his master’s degree.
“I did my undergraduate degree at Keuka College, so I knew the professors were really hands-on and accessible; they really cared,” he says. “I definitely valued the education I got at Keuka College.”