New DPS interim chief appointed

Photo of a red and grey sign that reads “Department of Public Safety.” Greenery and a red brick building connected to a windowed room surround the sign.

Photo of a red and grey sign that reads “Department of Public Safety.” Greenery and a red brick building connected to a windowed room surround the sign.
Former Chief John Thomas’ served with DPS for 15 years and as chief for nine years. (Celine Vazquez | Daily Trojan file photo)

Department of Public Safety Assistant Chief David Carlisle will serve as interim chief for the department effective Thursday, Associate Senior Vice President of Safety and Risk Assurance Erroll Southers announced in a campuswide email Wednesday. 

Carlisle will replace former Chief John Thomas, who worked with DPS for 15 years and served as chief for nine.

“I consider it an honor that the University had the confidence in me to take on this challenge,” said Carlisle in an interview with the Daily Trojan Wednesday. “I’m following in the footsteps of a great leader, and that was my friend, colleague, John.”

Southers, who was appointed to his new role Jan. 3, will work with USC senior leadership and a search committee that includes “faculty, staff, students, and community stakeholders” in a nationwide search for Thomas’ permanent replacement.

Robin Tilley, the most tenured member of the DPS Command Staff who joined DPS in 1988, was appointed interim DPS Executive Officer and will report directly to Carlisle. Thomas will remain with the University as an adviser reporting to Senior Vice President for Administration David Wright, working with the DPS Community Advisory Board Implementation Team and aiding his successor’s transition. 

In an interview with the Daily Trojan Thursday, Southers said he looks to find a new chief who understands the community, is committed to the One Safety Vision — the advisory board’s recommendations to create “community safety” for all — and will “reimagine public safety.”

“This is not about, if you will, ‘law enforcement,’” Southers said. “This really is about community and public safety. We want a person who’s going to embrace those kinds of values going forward, much as Chief Thomas did in the past.”

During his nine-year tenure as chief, Thomas participated in the Community Advisory Board and took part in the DPS Cadet Program, where first-generation students from the surrounding community learn about crime prevention and work with USC officers. 

Thomas said the seriousness of the advisory board, its emphasis on community oversight and input on public safety contributed to his decision to retire because of his confidence in the program.

“I don’t think I would have retired when I did, had it not been for the work that I see with the [Community Advisory Board] that will be the catalyst for pushing the department forward in a very progressive way,” Thomas said. “So that gave me a sense of comfort.” 

Thomas said Carlisle brings more than 40 years of experience, knowledge of institutional and historical perspectives and awareness of the “ups and downs” within DPS. 

“[Carlisle] loves USC,” Thomas said. “He understands some of the challenges of keeping the community safe. He understands some of the challenges of working in concert and collaboration with the surrounding non-USC affiliated community, so I think it worked out perfectly.”

Christina Chkarboul and Kacie Yamamoto contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this article said that Thomas “oversaw the creation of” the Community Advisory Board. Though he suggested establishing the new advisory board, he did not oversee its creation. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.