As he prepares to head north to Indiana, Tim Potts thinks back to his early days behind the badge as chief of University Police. In his first year at Ole Miss, Potts saw the Ku Klux Klan visit campus twice, the state flag lowered for the final time in the Circle and a countless number of beer showers in Swayze’s right field.
“I started in June (2015), but I knew in May that it was going to be interesting, to say the least,” Potts said on his last full day in the office.
After 2 ½ years of leading the University Police Department, Potts has resigned and accepted a chief position at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Ole Miss posted his position to its job site at the beginning of 2018, and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc said a search committee was formed Monday.
“He gave us 2 ½ years, but he really gave us what a lot of leaders would do in four or five,” Hephner LaBanc said. “The man works constantly.”
Potts, an Indiana native, said although he has a familiarity with the Purdue campus police system it’s really his love of family that’s pulling him back home. He said most of his belongings are already moved back home, where his college-aged daughter Haley lives, but the decision to leave was tougher than he expected.
“It really was a hard decision, and all the credit goes to Ole Miss on that because I’m a family-first person, and I thought that I would have packed up my stuff and left in one week, but it’s been difficult to separate and leave because of how I feel about the university and department here,” he said.
He’s headed to a smaller police department at a school without football or on-campus fraternities, but he’s not headed there in search of a less hectic environment.
“I’m definitely a person who likes challenges,” Potts said. “That excites me. I like the challenge of trying to figure out security and what kind of plan of action we’re going to take.”
And he was certainly challenged during his time on campus.
Potts said university leaders sought a way to address the growing conflict surrounding Mississippi’s state flag in his very first administrative meeting on campus in 2015. That December, CBS’ “60 Minutes” reported on the controversial practices of the Lafayette County Metro Narcotics Unit. Through these initial months on campus, Potts said he kept up his commitment to serving “people first.”
“I think you have to be people first here and that’s easy to say but it’s not always easy to do,” Potts said. “You have to have a servant’s heart.”
Still within Potts’ first semester, KKK members marched twice on campus in support of the state flag, forcing him to escort them off campus to avoid conflict with counter-protesters.
“Yeah, that first semester was something,” Potts laughed.
He said these on-campus protests created additional work for an already stretched campus security force, but the patrols kept up their dedication to the safety and security of anyone on campus. He remembers the first time he confronted Klan members on campus, and said the best way to approach that situation is to be open with everyone involved. Potts said people on either side of the flag protests thanked him for his control.
“If I knew that a group was coming into campus, I tried to work with them and let them know what the guidelines were for campus and let them know what to expect from us,” Potts said.
Hephner LaBanc said Potts’ welcoming nature and warm demeanor defined his role on campus. She said that in many ways, he led with his identity as a parent. Often, Potts went out of his way to calm worried parents who called the school with questions or concerns.
“He has a way of putting people at ease,” she said. “He never hesitated – ‘Let me call them. Let me talk to them. I’m a dad.’”
Along with earning the respect of parents and campus visitors, Hephner LaBanc said Potts won over his patrol staffs early on. He visited their shifts and looked out for them and even gave up his personal cruiser.
The university offered Potts a brand-new car when he first arrived on campus, but he never liked driving it. He didn’t see how he could comfortably use the new vehicle when many patrol members didn’t have official cars of their own.
“I drive whatever,” Potts said. “Usually the old one with 100,000 miles on it.”
Potts officially offered his resignation when school returned from break, but Hephner LaBanc said he let the university know he was in the running for the Indiana job late in the fall semester.
“I was like ‘Don’t say it!’ when he told me he was leaving, but he was very forthright, very appropriate,” she said.
Potts said he will always remember Ole Miss and the overwhelming student involvement he saw.
“I will thoroughly miss baseball, not so much dealing with, and no offense to anyone who sits out there, but not necessarily right field. That’s a difficult position,” he said.
Potts said he questions the alcohol policy regarding the right field of Swayze Field and the Grove, but knows the university is trying to figure the best way to balance “having a great time” while also enforcing appropriate alcohol and drug education. He said UPD has had to increase staffing because of the sheer crowds and behavior.
“We’re talking about alcohol and other drugs and alcohol education, and yet organizations will have parties every single weekend with hundreds of people in attendance,” Potts said.
Now that the search committee has been charged with hiring a new chief, Hephner LaBanc said her office is beginning to draft a timeline for when a new hire would take over. The process will resemble the way similar university positions are filled, where final candidates will meet with key campus groups. Hephner LaBanc said the Title IX, game day and housing coordinators will hear candidates present, along with day and night shift officers, senior leaders and students.
She said the university is open to an internal hire, but the offer was posted internationally and sent to all graduates of the FBI national academy. Hephner LaBanc said Potts’ position will remain vacant until a new chief is hired, but the opening has received been strong interest so far.
“I think it would be great to have someone in place before SEC baseball really gets ranked up, so they can experience it for themselves, you know, welcome look at what you got in now.”