For a decade, Joe Eickman was the new guy in the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s campus safety office, and the only police officer other than former director Gary Gulbrandson.
But that changed Monday, Dec. 21, when the University of Wisconsin-Superior swore in six police officers and Eickman. The move marks a shift in campus safety from security officers to police officers.
Now, the department includes three full-time and three part-time police officers, as well as two security officers and Eickman, who serves as interim director of public safety. The part-time officers include one person to hold Eickman's spot during his time as interim director and two backup officers in case any officers contract COVID-19.
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Eickman grew up in central North Dakota and served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps after he graduated. He met his wife-to-be while attending college at the University of North Dakota before transferring to the University of Minnesota Duluth. He graduated from UMD and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College at the same time with a bachelor’s degree in criminology and an associate arts and science degree in law enforcement.
After working briefly for the Duluth Police Department, he made the move to UWS in 2009. It didn’t take long for him to realize the job, with its emphasis on education, was a perfect fit.
“I really like the atmosphere here where I can be more of a mentor and meet people on a different level, where I deal with usually kids who are trying to find themselves as adults versus career criminals a lot of the city departments deal with,” Eickman said.
Eickman has become a familiar face campus-wide, having put on training and classes for UWS students and having served as advisor for the criminal justice club.
“I’ve made it a point in my patrol career to get out of the car. If there were basketball games, I would be there; if there were hockey games, I would be there, even if I wasn’t hired for the event,” he said. “I’m one of the officers that a lot of the students knew by name."
His focus extends to the community. When the Superior Police Department calls for mutual aid, Eickman answers.
"A lot of times he's willing to come off campus and help us out, maybe being a backup officer," said SPD Patrol Sergeant Nick Eastman.
Because he's also a police officer, Eickman is closely connected with Superior police. UWS uses the same radio frequency as Superior police, and most of Eickman's training has been done through the department.
Having more police officers in the campus public safety office can help improve that connection and benefit the community.
"The two departments already work together very well," Eastman said. "I think the city will benefit from the campus moving towards a full-time police department."
Eickman, 40, traded in his uniform for a suit when he became interim director of public safety July 1, just in time to usher in a change from handwritten citations to electronic ones. The move streamlined the work, said security officer Larry Martin.
When he reached the rank of sergeant, Eickman took UWS' certificate program for equity, diversity and inclusion. Seeing that the entire department could benefit from it, he got approval to put all the patrol officers through it. As of November, each of them had received their certificate.
With such a large number of international students on campus, Eickman said, it's important for officers to have the education and training to deal with people from different parts of the world. It was also a chance for officers to deal with any biases they might have and get to "a level where we can deal with people at a human level versus a cultural level."
Martin said Eickman has the qualities needed to lead the department, which responds to as many as 3,000 calls a year — flexibility, a good work ethic, a positive attitude and a view toward improvements. The interim director is also determined to keep an open-door policy.
"He still comes to us, asks what’s going on outside. He still wants to keep in touch with us and keep a pulse on what we’re doing out there, as well as what incidents might come about," Martin said. "He understands what we’re going through."
Although he intends to apply for the director's position when it is posted, Eickman is determined to keep connecting with other safety officers on campus.
"I do want to take time to get out of the office," he said. "My door's always open."