After several high-profile public safety incidents in 2012, newly appointed Dept. of Public Safety Chief John Thomas is inheriting a 280-member force that finds itself directly in the public eye.
Thomas assumed the position of chief over winter break, after former Chief Carey Drayton left the post to work as special assistant to Charles Lane, associate vice president of Career and Protective Services. Drayton left his DPS position after talking about exploring other opportunities, Lane said
“The position of Chief of the Dept. of Public Safety is extremely demanding,” Lane wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan. “Carey Drayton was in the post for seven years and in recent years had expressed an interest in other opportunities.”
Drayton said he plans to remain in his new post, at least through the end of the spring semester, but is considering work in the private sector.
“For me, it is a great time to explore other professional opportunities, which may include work in the ever-growing private security sector,” Drayton wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan. “I began working in campus law enforcement in 1980, serving students at premier institutions, and it is time to evaluate all my options as I look at the next couple of decades in my career.”
DPS was heavily involved in responding to several widely-reported incidents last year, including an off-campus shooting that fatally wounded two graduate students from China and an on-campus shooting in October that prompted new security measures, such as the implementation of fences around the perimeter of campus.
As chief, Thomas, who formerly worked at the Los Angeles Police Department, said his top priorities are to reduce crime and ensure that DPS functions professionally.
“In a nutshell, ensuring that our department is well-prepared [and] well-trained for responding to various types of situations,” Thomas said.
Because of the visibility that inherently comes with policing a bustling campus, Thomas said it is important that DPS treat people on campus respectfully.
“When people come to this campus, when they come to this community, we have an obligation in every aspect to make sure that we are representing the university in a manner consistent with the values of the university,” he said.
Despite DPS’ good reputation with other agencies such as the LAPD, Thomas stressed the importance of improving the department’s reputation among students, the community and regular visitors.
“I don’t think we’re horrible, but I do think we have a lot of work to do to enjoy the same type of reputation and respect that we enjoy among our law enforcement peers,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he hopes to improve DPS’ reputation by ensuring that interactions with officers are positive.
“There is no excuse for us, in the heat of whatever we’re engaged in, [to] become part of the problem by exacerbating the situation,” Thomas said. “Those days of responding out of emotion and out of bias -— those things are unacceptable to me.”
For Thomas, increased transparency is another important step toward changing DPS’ perception among some members of the community.
“I want us to explain our actions to those that we encounter,” Thomas said. “And when we make mistakes — and we will make mistakes — I want us to apologize to people — unqualified apologies.”
Thomas also hopes to promote more collaboration between the community and students who live in the local area.
Thomas’ resume includes working as the adjutant to the LAPD chiefs William J. Bratton, Martin Pomeroy and Bernard C. Parks. Before coming to USC in 2006, Thomas served as deputy chief of police in the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Management at the University of the District of Columbia. In 2010, he helped oversee plans for President Barack Obama’s visit to USC.
Lane said Thomas, who grew up near USC, fit many criteria that the university was looking for in a new chief.
“He was a natural choice to become executive director and chief,” Lane said.
Drayton, in his new position, will help Thomas transition to the role of DPS chief, according to Lane.