More than a job for new NIU police chief

Mitchell: ‘NIU has been home for me. This has been my home for 33 years.

On January 1, NIU Acting Chief of Police Darren Mitchell officially became NIU Chief of Police. Mitchell was announced as the University’s next permanent police chief on December 14, but Mitchell’s ties to the DeKalb and NIU communities span 22 years in uniform and 33 years as a member of the Huskie community.

A Huskie from the ferry

Darren came to NIU in 1988 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science and has since earned his MBA, married his college sweetheart, and raised a family at DeKalb. For Mitchell, NIU and DeKalb are more than just a community.

“NIU has been home for me,” said Darren Mitchell. “This has been my home for 33 years.”

Darren grew up in Chicago’s Southside neighborhood of Bronzeville, raised by a single mother who argued that education was the key to a future.

“My mother was very insistent on continuing her education,” said Darren Mitchell. “That’s how you know, you achieve your dreams and goals.”

An unexpected career path

While education was the ship to success, Darren never thought he wanted to become a police officer.

“I wanted to be a lawyer,” Darren Mitchell said. “When my friend presented me with the opportunity to do policing (at NIU), I said no.”

The Bronzeville native said growing up on the South Side he had many of the same feelings that young black men still have towards the police to this day, including a lack of trust. Although never directly to him, Darren saw a lot of negative police engagement grow in his neighborhood, which shaped his view of law enforcement.

It was only after a meeting with then-NIU Police Chief John Pickens that Darren decided to join the force. Becoming an officer allowed Darren to support his family while allowing him to pursue his law studies.

While his motivations for joining the force were to help him get a law degree, those motivations quickly changed when he started his shifts for the NIU Police Department.

“At the time, it was a selfish motive because I was more focused on getting a law degree than on, you know, being a lifelong cop,” Darren said. Mitchell. “Once I started the job, I fell in love with it.”

Darren Mitchell through the years

The passion to do well

Since 2000, Darren Mitchell has risen through the ranks of the NIU Police Department. Starting out as a patrol officer and working in various commands and departments within the NIU Police, no matter where Darren went, his personality and value of living by the Golden Rule followed.

Chief Mitchell embraces a member of the NIU community during a visit to the Holmes Student Center on January 19. Melody Mitchell, Darren’s wife, said he followed the golden rule and treated everyone with dignity and respect wherever he went. (Zulfiqar Ahmend | North Star) (Zulfiqar Ahmend)

“The values ​​that she (Darren’s mother) instilled in him live by the golden rule,” said Melody Mitchell, wife of Darren Mitchell and chief of staff and assistant dean of strategic communications at the NIU College of Law. “Treat people the way you want to be treated, you know, treat people with dignity and respect.”

Over the course of their 32-year relationship, Melody has seen these qualities and his experience as a father lift Darren into his job with the NIU Police Department and prepare him to take on this role as Chief of Police.

“Both of our sons recently graduated and our daughter is in college,” Melody Mitchell said. “As a father, he understands how concerned parents are about their most precious possession, their children and their safety.”

Darren said a domestic violence incident involving a mother and young children opened his eyes to the good he could do as an officer.

“After that, I was so focused and determined,” Darren Mitchell said. “My work has kind of helped reinforce my ambition of just wanting to have more impact.”

A chance to flip the script

Darren is the first NIU Chief of Police to be hired into the department in its 58-year history. Darren stated that he either supervised, served or coordinated with all aspects of this department.

As a father, he understands how concerned parents are about their most precious possession, their children and their safety.

—Melody Mitchell, wife of Darren Mitchell

Since 2000, the vision of the police as a public service has changed. With current events such as George Floyd in Minneapolis and Laquan McDonald in Chicago, trust in the police has diminished, but Darren hopes he can help change that narrative as a leader.

“As a member of the police force, I started to think that more people like me should take advantage of these opportunities,” said Darren Mitchell. “You will see the benefit you can have by helping to improve the police and connecting with them, which is beneficial for the individual and for the community.”

As Chief, Darren wants the NIU Police Department to operate in a manner supported by “procedural justice measures.” These metrics are built by building trust, giving people a voice when you meet them, and conveying a level of trust when working with the community.

“The level of confidence, it’s sad to see, but I also understand,” said Darren Mitchell. “Police services must continue to evolve, and we will. I think we are now at a place where the dice are thrown and people expect more from the police than they should.