Penn State

Penn State police Chief Tyrone Parham departs for career’s next chapter

Tyrone Parham, Penn State police chief, talks with reporters during a news conference in 2014.
Tyrone Parham, Penn State police chief, talks with reporters during a news conference in 2014. Centre Daily Times, file

After 23 years on the job, Penn State police Chief Tyrone Parham will turn in his badge and uniform at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

He’s accepted a position as chief of police/assistant vice chancellor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He turns a new leaf in his professional career Monday.

“I started at Penn State as an undergraduate student, then I started as an officer in 1993. All of my educational experiences and professional career have been at Penn State. This feels odd, but at the same time it is my next chapter,” Parham said.

“The interesting thing about this is, I wasn’t actually looking for a job, I was content here at Penn State. I didn’t initially respond but after they reached out to me the third time, I figured that I needed to take a look at the position,” he said.

After several conversations with the hiring staff at UMass Amherst, Parham and his wife, Precious, decided to accept the position and move their family to Massachusetts.

“The new position is an assistant vice chancellor. This is a huge promotion for me. It will give me more administrative opportunities, a chance to grow,” he said. “It will give me career growth opportunities that I wouldn’t have had.”

Parham’s new position will keep him busy. UMass Amherst is like Penn State as it’s the university’s flagship location with close to 30,000 students. Parham will be responsible for running a department that has 61 officers.

“I think this is going to be chapter two in terms of my professional career. I’ve learned essential people skills at Penn State and about all different generations of students,” he said. “The student generations have changed too. I’ve learned so much from different people around the university, I have also realized that we can’t do this job by ourselves and that public safety is a community collaboration of all departments.”

Parham said several key people have played a role in his growth.

“I’ve had a lot of interactions with (State College police) Chief (Tom) King — we have a lot of similarities, similar departments, similar missions of public safety. I’ve had great mentors and leaders help me get to where I’m at, including Chief King,” said Parham.

And there is no shortage of accolades for Parham.

“Tyrone Parham has provided exemplary service to Penn State for more than two decades. For the past five years, he has served as the chief of police for the University Park campus. The importance of this role to the security and well-being of our large campus community cannot be overstated,” David Gray, senior vice president for finance and business at Penn State, said in a press release.

In terms of that service, there are numerous examples.

“Most recently, Chief Parham led a successful effort to secure accreditation of our police department from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc. This is a significant milestone that relatively few police agencies achieve,” Gray said.

Gray added that Parham’s “steady leadership” will be missed.

“We wish to gratefully acknowledge his many contributions and also to wish him well as he takes on a new professional challenge at the University of Massachusetts Amherst,” Gray said.

Parham’s career has not been absent of challenge, nonetheless.

“One of our largest challenges in my career has been how to deal with State Patty’s Day. In 2010, hundreds of people had to go to the hospital for alcohol overdoses, the entire community was affected by it and we realized that every year we are going to have this issue. It’s been a recurring challenge.”

When asked what he thinks can be done to improve the situation, Parham said the community “has to come together because this is not just a police issue.”

Another challenge Parham has faced as a police chief is the distrust many in his demographic feel toward police.

“I do think that sometimes police are unfair. Some (police) have made some very bad mistakes. We have to show community members the other side of us.”

He believes it starts by “admitting that there are some really bad things going on and we do have to show the community we are on their side.”

Regarding diversity among police, Parham said, “We need to capitalize on getting students of color in our criminology program to actually stay here. We need to continue to try to recruit from other areas. We need to continue to recruit students from the police academy. Our largest challenge is getting applicants.”

And initiatives are being taken. Parham and King are both part of a “community group called the Special Police and Minorities task force that helps with training and recruiting. The group includes faculty members and other advisers that give us some input on ways in which we can recruit.”

“I think the staff of police officers should also look like and represent the community ... I think there is a need for it. There are various perspectives,” Parham said. “People need to establish public trust, so that they know we have their interests at heart. When people see people that look like them on the police force, it just establishes that trust.”

And Parham will have to work to establish that same trust at UMass Amherst.

“We are very fortunate to have Tyrone Parham join our campus leadership. He clearly understands the complexity of a public flagship university and the importance of working collaboratively with all members of our community, while his commitment to community policing reflects his values of responsiveness and respectfulness,” said Enku Gelaye, vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life at UMass Amherst, in a press release.

Parham may be leaving his job at Penn State, but he will always answer “we are,” with “Penn State.”

One of his sons, Bryce, is a sophomore at Penn State on the track team.

“We will be back for quite a few of his track meets,” Parham said.

Jalelah Ahmed: 814-231-4631, @jalelahahmed