BY LISA TREI
Times have changed since Police Chief Marvin Herrington first arrived on campus three decades ago. Back then, anti-war demonstrations, sit-ins and vandalism were daily events.
"It was a grim time," recalls Stanford's longtime top cop, who is retiring at the end of the month. "With a lot of the protests, I couldn't figure out who was against who. All I knew was that everyone was mad and everyone wanted to break something."
Neatly dressed in a white shirt, gray pants and polished black shoes, Herrington, 65, recently departed from his customary "stay in the background" stance to talk at length about his years on the beat. He left active duty March 1 but has remained on campus to organize 30 years of police archives.
Police Chief Marvin Herrington has received widespread praise for keeping cool under pressure. photo: L.A. Cicero
While the Farm today is a calmer place than it was in 1971, policing it still poses challenges unique to a large, residential university. Whether it's a high-security visit by a world leader, a popular sporting event or a demonstration in White Plaza, Herrington approaches each incident the same way he dealt with the Vietnam War protests so long ago.
"What I want is for law enforcement to be even-handed," he says. "I don't want police officers to decide what's right and what's wrong. The law decides that. I don't care what the cause is; I've got to be the calm one in the situation. I've got to deal with the behavior so people don't get hurt."
Bruce Wiggins, a manager in Facilities Operations who has known Herrington since the 1970s, says the chief's modus operandi always has been to try to seek a resolution before taking action. "He's cool, calm and collected," Wiggins says.
"In every situation he has been able to keep focus when other people around him become apoplectic," adds Bob Gregg, professor of religious studies and former university chaplain. "Everyone should be as stable and as sane as Marv Herrington, and have the right sense of irony. If we were, we wouldn't need campus security."
Alan Cummings, a Facilities Operations manager who previously worked in athletics and student housing, has collaborated with Herrington in many different roles. "I don't know quite how he does it," he says. "He has managed to strike a balance between having empathy and understanding for young people and campus law enforcement needs. But he never gets out in front. He makes sure that events [he provides security for] reflect the quality and dignity of the university."
Jim Lyons, dean of student affairs from 1972 to 1990, says Herrington brought respect and decency to campus policing. Before him, Lyons says, "The university really had not learned to take a deep breath and count to 10. But [former President] Dick Lyman instituted principles that set the stage, and Herrington demonstrated there was a new approach. Rather than bombard [protesters] and make arrests, Herrington was unafraid to talk to students. That became the norm at Stanford, and it was part of the reason why things were a little more civilized here."
Herrington's no-nonsense but nonconfrontational approach has remained constant through the years. In the 1980s, students regularly protested against the university's investment in companies doing business in South Africa under apartheid. During a Board of Trustees meeting at the Hoover Institution, Lyons recalls, a group of students organized a sit-in to block the members from returning to their cars nearby. "We were talking about how to process the students when Marv said, 'Wouldn't it be cheaper to get another bunch of cars?'" That was organized and the trustees left unhindered, leaving the protesters sitting around the unused cars. When a puzzled student asked, "Aren't you going to arrest us?" Marv replied, "We've decided not to."
Fraternity parties also have caused headaches for administrators. "Frats and alcohol have been a pain forever," Lyons says. "The university wants to teach students how to be responsible drinkers and enforce the law. It was always amazing that Marv could walk into a student meeting, be greeted with stony silence and then proceed to warm things up."
Lyons says Herrington would tell the fraternity members that he knew people from outside the university might show up at their party and cause trouble. "He'd say, 'If you get in a jam, call us and we'll help you.' Frats would see him not as the enemy but as somebody to turn to. He could relate to that kind of student situation comfortably. He enjoyed all kinds of respect."
Colleagues say Herrington's quiet competence and unflappable demeanor have influenced the code of conduct for the university's Department of Public Safety, which the chief built from scratch. When he first came to campus, officers were armed but had no training.
"I decided we had to start over," the chief recalls. "I converted everyone into unarmed CSOs [Community Service Officers] at the same pay. I had everyone reapply in writing. Out of 60 to 70 people, only eight made it." The chief went on to hire staff from outside police departments. Today, all but two people in the 65-member department are Herrington hires. Since Stanford is a private institution, the chief reports to the president on policy issues and to the Santa Clara County sheriff regarding law enforcement matters.
Acting Chief Marvin Moore, who will take over the department May 1, says Herrington identified the importance of professional training from the start. He also implemented a philosophy that emphasizes quality service to the community. "That has carried on through the years," Moore says. "For him, it's more important to do the job right than to get credit for it. He's the kind of person who wants to do what's right even when no one is looking."
At first glance, a campus beat might be viewed as a cushy job for a cop. Officers are seen giving citations to errant cyclists and the university appears to be an island of tranquility in bustling Silicon Valley.
But, Herrington says, campus life is not that simple. Stanford is different from other universities. "Almost all of the students live here," he says. "They don't go home, they are at home." Faculty and senior employees are campus residents as well. That means that the types of incidents that municipal cops commonly deal with -- such as theft, assault, domestic violence and vandalism -- also occur on campus. In addition, the sprawling, open grounds attract people from outside communities who attend evening classes, concerts and lectures. "The public comes out here day and night," the chief says. "This place never shuts down."
However, Herrington says, it's the difference between campus and city policing that has kept him on the Farm for so long.
"I hate the politics in cities," he says. "Politicians have a vision that's only two to four years long. When you work in a community like this, the vision is 50 years long. [The administration] is not going to play politics with the police department as long as we get the job done."
Furthermore, Herrington says, Stanford has presented him with challenges he never dreamed of. "It would be boring for me to work in a city," he says. "The involvement in peripheral issues here is what makes it interesting. I'm viewed as a community resource, not just someone responsible for law enforcement."
Those challenges have ranged from coordinating security for visits by the former Soviet Union's Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and England's Queen Elizabeth II to cutting through university bureaucracy to help a frustrated professor bring a giant rubber-tired tractor on campus for an engineering seminar. The university also has hosted mega-events such as the Super Bowl, Olympic soccer and the World Cup.
And Stanford does it all with a core police force of just 32 sworn deputies.
"Even though we're a small department, the depth of experience we have is pretty incredible," the chief says.
That's particularly true for Moore, whom Herrington hired as a 23-year-old rookie in 1973. At the time, Moore was unemployed and had an arrest record for theft and shoplifting. The East Palo Alto resident says he applied for the campus police job only to satisfy his unemployment officer. "I came here with every intent of being turned down," he says.
Instead, Herrington wanted to hire Moore. "I saw something that I thought was the real thing," he says. The chief told Moore that he'd go to bat for him. And he did -- even after the county sheriff turned him down twice. "He had legitimate [reasons] for not doing that but he said honor and integrity meant more than past practice," Moore says. "He decided I had more going for me than I did." On the third attempt, the sheriff approved Moore's application.
"Later on, I really started understanding that [Herrington's] motives were for real," Moore says. "We developed a close relationship. I assimilated his values in terms of service -- to deliver the highest quality service as possible."
Moore says that will continue under his leadership. "Nothing has changed," he says. "It's the appropriate course."
As for Herrington, retirement means time to go camping and hiking with his wife, Esther; tackle home improvement projects; and read books.
friend told me, 'When you retire, you'll have this feeling of
unburdening and euphoria,'" Herrington says. "'Then, you'll realize
the load you've been carrying around all these years.'"
Stanford Report, April 25, 2001