UTPD looks at Los Angeles Police Captain for new chief position


Becca Gamache

Captain Melissa Zak of the Los Angeles Police Department speaks at a public forum Tuesday afternoon in the North Office Building. During the forum, Zak discussed her prior law enforcement experience as well as her plans for UT should she be selected as UTPD Chief of Police.

Alexandra Dubinsky

Captain Melissa Zak of the Los Angeles Police Department said she was ready to leave the City of Angels when UT football beat the University of Southern California at the 2005 Bowl Championship Series.

Seven years later, Zak is entertaining the possibility of a move to Austin, as one of four candidates for UTPD Chief of Police. The selected candidate will replace current UTPD Chief Robert Dahlstrom, who is retiring next month.

The search committee for UTPD Chief of Police held a public forum Tuesday afternoon in which students, faculty and staff were invited to learn more about Zak and her previous experience
in law enforcement.

According to Bob Harkins, the associate vice president for Campus Safety and Security, the search committee of 23 includes two undergraduate and two graduate students, along with other officials, who will ultimately decide on the winning candidate.

“The intent is to get as much exposure for each candidate and for the search committee to be as wide as we can make it,” Harkins said. “The search committee decides based on professional competency, leadership and a personality that fits with us.”

Zak recalled a past experience when she was phoned at 4 a.m. about the murder of two USC
students near campus.

“You look at crime across the U.S. and across university campuses and it’s all the same,” Zak said. “You see crime targeted at students because of what they have, from iPhones and iPads to other expensive technology.“

Zak also talked about her love for the youth, strategies to improve retention within UTPD staff and her overall perception of leadership.

“A team is only as strong as its weakest link,” Zak said. “When you look at a team you always want to identify its strengths and its weaknesses. Retention is a big issue here and I want to work with them and find out why [officers] want to leave and what makes [officers] want to stay.”

Assistant Dean of Students Mary Beth Mercatoris said it is important to pick someone who understands that the safety of the UT community needs to be a team approach.

“We need someone who both understands how to lead us but also someone who is willing to follow and understand how those roles can change under different circumstances,“ Mercatoris said.