First woman police chief at U leaves position

Sarah McKenzie

From the view in her new office in Minnetonka, Joy Rikala no longer catches glimpses of Campus Connector buses or daredevil protesters dangling from the roof of Malcolm Moos Health Sciences Tower.
Rikala, University Police chief for the past six years, accepted the position as the director of the Minnetonka Public Safety department in March. She begins her new job today.
On Friday, Rikala tearfully acknowledged her attachment to the campus and joked with her colleagues one final time in her spacious corner office filled with honors and accolades.
“The University has probably the greatest resource in it’s people,” Rikala said. “Really there are wonderful, wonderful people here that make up the institution.”
Rikala was the first woman to serve as police chief at the University Police Department. Only a handful of other police departments in the state employ female police chiefs.
She worked for the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for 18 years before she started at the University. She holds degrees in criminology and management from the University of Minnesota-Duluth and Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota, respectively.
Minnetonka, a western suburb, has a population of more than 50,000. At the University, Rikala was responsible for the safety of 80,000 individuals by day and 5,000 on-campus residents.
University Police Lt. Steven Johnson will serve as acting police chief until a search committee completes a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
Rikala’s days as University Police chief ended on a tumultuous note after last Monday’s destruction and vandalism at a dozen University research labs. Rikala said investigators have a number of leads, but there will be no “speedy and quick arrests.”
“These are very complex cases,” she said. “And when we are in the process of looking at both state and federal charges, we have to make sure we have the best possible case.”
University Police Detective Marianne Olson said Rikala’s colleagues will miss her expertise — especially in light of last week’s research lab raids.
Rikala said she does not regret leaving at this time, noting the vast majority of her days as chief have also been very intense. Other high-profile cases have commanded similar attention, she said.
One such case involved the arrest of Jennifer May, a disgruntled University employee who fired shots into the ceiling of former University President Nils Hasselmo’s office in June 1996.
Prior to such incidents, Rikala said many people believed the University was immune to such crimes.
When Rikala first began her tenure as police chief, many individuals asked her why she refrained from turning over demanding cases to Minneapolis police investigators. She maintains that University Police investigators are capable of handling difficult investigations.
At the news conference last Monday, Rikala said no one questioned the department’s ability to handle the vandalism case.
“One thing about this environment is there are non-stop issues,” Rikala said. “So there is never a time when there is a lull.”