A changing of the guard for UMPD

After 11 years as chief of the campus police department, Greg Hestness is retiring.

Chief Greg Hestness poses in his office at the University of Minnesota Police Department Monday afternoon. Hestness will be retiring in June after a 40-year career in law enforcement.

Chief Greg Hestness poses in his office at the University of Minnesota Police Department Monday afternoon. Hestness will be retiring in June after a 40-year career in law enforcement.

Nick Wicker

Among the certificates, diplomas, photos and licenses lining the walls of University of Minnesota police Chief Greg Hestness’ office, one frame stands out. Behind its glass pane is a Native American crafted headband beaded with the word “token.”

The name is what his Native American colleagues called him when he worked for the Minneapolis Police Department as the only white man in his patrol unit.

But Hestness’ nearly 40 years in law enforcement have shown he is far from a token officer, colleague or chief.

Hestness, now the head of the University’s police department, will retire in June. People close to him describe the chief as humble, approachable and dedicated to the community he serves.

“He’s very down-to-earth, laid-back,” said University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner. “He does not have an ego of any sort.”

On a little table near his office’s door, Hestness has stacked a myriad of police uniform shoulder patches from officers he has met throughout his career.

And scattered in the pile are Hestness’ own — one with a tattered and faded blue and silver MPD emblem and another, his newest, with a maroon and gold UMPD dress-patch.

Straight after graduating from the University in 1975, Hestness joined Minneapolis’ force as a patrol officer for the first 11 years of his career.

There, Hestness said he learned the ropes of policing as he rose through the ranks and garnered valuable experiences.

“You go to work and you start thinking, ‘I can look at anything and nothing’s going to bother me. This is my job; I’m a tough cop,’” Hestness said.

He recalled an instance when he and his partner searched an apartment and found nothing but an odd scent.

Before leaving, they lifted the apartment’s beds, uncovering the strangled bodies of the resident’s girlfriend, a prostitute and the resident’s two young children.

“Sitting in bed two days later, I think, ‘Those are about the age of my two kids,’” Hestness said. “There are things you’re going to see that are going to affect you. Even if you don’t think so, even if you think you’re a big tough guy, something’s going to get you.”

His MPD stint ended in 2003 when he accepted a position as University Services’ assistant vice president for public safety.

Months later, Hestness took over as police chief. 

“You are the person with whom the buck’s got to stop,” Hestness said of his transition to the department’s highest position of authority.

He said he’s noticed two styles of university police chiefs across the country: home-grown, “came up through campus” chiefs and those who left other jurisdictions, like Hestness.

“I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, but I’ve been very impressed with people that came up through campus police,” Hestness said.

Since taking the helm, neighboring law enforcement agencies like MPD and the St. Paul Police Department treated UMPD as a more serious partner, he said.

Pamela Wheelock, the vice president of University Services, said Hestness has also made a point of increasing diversity within the force, which included the addition of three new UMPD hires last year.

Miner, who has served under Hestness for 11 years, said his boss has taught him to prioritize a healthy relationship between the department and those it serves.

“He’s very interested in community relations, specifically with student groups,” Miner said.

Hestness’ coming retirement will leave a legacy of approachability and visibility from the campus department, Wheelock said.

“He is an egoless servant to the University, in all the best ways,” she said. “He will be missed.”

Changing of the guard

Miner was a lieutenant when Hestness returned to the University as a police officer.

Miner works with the chief closely on a day-to-day basis, attending meetings and discussing department issues.

“He cares a lot about the officers,” Miner said. “He thinks a lot about how to work with them to make sure they’re successful in their jobs and that they’re happy working here.”

Miner said he plans to submit an application to replace the chief when the time comes.

Wheelock said in coming months, the University will organize a search committee — with the help of a professional “search firm” — that will have representation from school officials and student groups. It will narrow the candidate pool, and Wheelock will make the final selection.

Because the search won’t wrap up until June, when Hestness is scheduled to leave, it’s too early to know details on the hiring committee or its processes, she said.

Though UMPD rarely promotes its own officers to the rank of chief, Hestness said, he hopes high-ranking University officers will be seriously considered in the upcoming changing of guard.

“I wouldn’t close that door — hopefully they get a good look,” Hestness said. “They’ve seen my act, what they like, what they don’t like, and can maybe take it in a different direction.”

He said he already has plans for life after retirement, which includes spending time with his wife, grandchildren and children and his book club that comprises current and former faculty and staff members.

“The best police chief is the last one and the next one,” Hestness said. “It gets to a point where it’s time for some change.”