Anthony Purcell said, “No, thank you,” when a search firm approached him to interview for the position of police chief at UAB. He was happy in his role as deputy police chief at Georgia Tech and content to stay where he was.
“But they convinced me just to take a look,” Purcell says. “I met Richard Margison, vice president for Financial Affairs and Administration, and I knew right away I would like to work for him.”
Shortly thereafter, Purcell was named assistant vice president and chief of police at UAB. He and his wife Karen moved to Birmingham, and he assumed his responsibilities here Oct. 9.
Prominent on the new chief’s to-do list the first month on the job were analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the university’s police department, assessing personnel and reviewing the organization chart and inspecting equipment and supplies, he said.
So far, he’s more than pleased.
“I am blessed,” Purcell says. “There are many campus safety programs already in place and working.” He identified the Rape Aggression Defense classes, the pedestrian safety campaign, Campus Watch organization and Operation ID among those programs that testify to the strength of the department and its campus-policing efforts.
“People here in the UAB Police Department are dedicated to the job and the university, and that is very evident,” Purcell says. The new chief, who counts UAB as the fourth campus he has been charged with protecting, noted, “It’s not always the case, because this can be a thankless job.”
The personal mission he brings to every campus is the same, Purcell says. “Making the police department the best it can be will help make the university the best it can be. You can’t have a strong university without a sound, respected police department. We are a spoke in the wheel to accomplish the goals, missions and objectives of the university.”
Purcell’s experience as chief of police at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte lends him the familiarity with the issues that UAB faces as a campus in a bustling metropolis.
But it was during his first job as the chief of police and director of public safety at his alma mater, North Carolina Central University in Durham, that he learned the difference between campus policing and county policing. On the 12th day in that job, an altercation left six students injured; Purcell says he was overwhelmed by the by the reaction of faculty, staff, students, relatives and community members demanding information and action.
“That never happened in the county,” he said of his previous nine years with the Durham County Sheriff’s Department. “But I quickly learned how to respond to the wide range of people who had vested interests in what happened on that campus.”
Now in his 25th year in law enforcement and well into his second decade of campus policing, Purcell is at ease with the particular demands of the university setting and has been able to share his knowledge and experience.
He has presented nationally on campus-policing issues such as diversity, litigation and community-based problem solving, and he has been an adjunct professor in criminal justice at NCCU and UNC-Charlotte.
What is it that Purcell most wants people to know about him before they even meet him?
“I want people to know the police department is receptive to assisting people as best as we can. That’s why I’m here, and I’ll do it to the best of my ability,” Purcell says.
And what should they learn by experience?
With a sly smile and no elaboration, he says, “I’ve got a mean bowling game.”