New associate vice president of Security brings policing experiences to campus


Senior Photo Editor

Ronald Sodini, the new associate vice president of Security, assumed his new role on Jan. 12 and plans to create an office that is more accessible to students and to develop policies that reflect the concerns of those on campus.

By Campus Editor

There is a new face at Central Command this semester. 

Ronald Sodini, the new associate vice president of Security, assumed duties Jan. 12 preceding the Jan. 30 retirement of Robert Koverman, his predecessor.

Sodini, a Chicago Police Department veteran who served CPD until December 2014, is the former commander of the Near West Side’s 12th District, an area that encompassed the campuses of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Malcolm X College and several high schools. Sodini said crime and fear of crime were reduced in the area when he worked in the district.

In addition to his background in law enforcement, Sodini, also a lawyer, has experience in the classroom. He spent several years teaching as an adjunct at Lewis and DePaul universities, where he taught criminal justice and sociology courses.

The Chronicle spoke with Sodini about his first week at the college, his time at CPD and his goals in his new position.

THE CHRONICLE: What attracted you to working at Columbia?

Ronald Sodini: What attracted me was the opportunity to work in a higher education setting and meld my experience in public safety with the need to protect students, staff and faculty. And Columbia is such an important institution in Chicago. I heard about [the job] through word-of-mouth and the Internet. I was searching for opportunities in safety and education because of my strong interest in both of those fields.

How have you protected college campuses in your past?

I have previous experience policing in areas that have numerous colleges and schools. What I would point to as most relevant is my time as the commander of the 12th police district, which is located in the West Loop. It includes the UIC campus, so I worked very closely with then-chief John Richardson in ensuring the safety of the UIC campus and community. In addition to UIC, there was Malcolm X College and a number of grammar schools and high schools in that area, so I’ve been involved in keeping students, faculty and staff safe for a long time.

What previous experiences have prepared you to work at Columbia? 

One is the empathy I have as being a student. I’ve been a lifelong learner. I finished my undergraduate degree while working full time and then I went on to law school and did that while working full time. I also went back to school to a community college—I had an interest in aviation—and pursued an aviation degree, so I’ve been a student for a good part of my life. I’ve also been a faculty member. I’ve had the opportunity to teach students at Lewis [and also] did a little teaching at DePaul, [which gives] me a perspective of the teaching side of things. [I also have experience] as a law enforcement practitioner, where I was responsible for making sure that campuses were safe, that we were protecting students from potential threats and all of those things, so I think all of those together have prepared me to perform here at Columbia.

What did you find most rewarding about your time at the CPD? 

It was a fabulous opportunity to serve others. I come from a family of police officers. My mother was a police officer, my father was a police officer, my brother is a police officer, and we’ve always felt it’s an honorable profession to help others and protect others. What I found rewarding were the daily interactions I had with the public in instances of crisis or need for help and being able to deliver that help to them.

What are some of the most important things you did with the CPD? 

I was part of developing the police department’s policy and training when it comes to preventing biased policing practices. The CPD has a policy to prohibit racial profiling and bias-based policing, and I was involved in writing that policy.  I was involved on the team that helped create training on cultural awareness and awareness on various diversity issues, and we developed a number of training initiatives that actually became best practices and were modeled elsewhere across the country and  adopted by other agencies. When I was a Chicago police officer, I was able to attend law school and graduate from Loyola [School of Law], and I think that legal training and those legal skills helped me in many ways throughout my career and will help me here at Columbia as well.

What do you hope to accomplish under your new role?

First and foremost, I want to solicit and get input from the community that we’re serving. I think that a successful security agency or security department must be open to understanding the views and the needs of those it serves, and so I want to develop partnerships with student groups, organizations, leadership and faculty and staff to make sure we’re delivering the type of public safety organization they want. I would like to create an advisory committee to the public safety department that will allow us to hear those voices and actively engage in dialogue on how we can better serve their needs and be sensitive to what issues they believe are of primary concern. 

Why do you think this accessibility for students is important? 

In order for a public safety or campus safety organization to be effective, it has to have strong relationships with those that it serves. We are part of the community, and so we need to listen and solicit the input of those we serve.

What are your immediate plans under this new title?

Right now I’m assessing the security department, and my hope is to create a strategic plan for our future [outlining] what it is we hope to enhance and improve upon, and [I want] to develop that document or that plan in conjunction with the stakeholders we serve. I don’t want to write that document myself. I want that document to [include] what it is that the students, faculty and staff think the vision of this organization should be, and I want to make sure we deliver excellence and success in protecting our campus. 

In addition to a strong focus on campus feedback, what else can be done to make the college safer?

The other piece of it is that [the] safety of this campus has to be a responsibility of all of us. We all have a role to play in keeping this campus safe, and I’m looking forward to engaging with the campus community and relying on them as well to be partners in ensuring that our campus is safe. That could be as simple as taking proactive measures to not leave property unattended that would attract someone to our campus who would want to take advantage of items that could be easily taken. It may mean somebody recognizing that something seems suspicious and letting us know that something doesn’t seem right so we can check it out, but that’s what I’m getting at. The role of campus safety is beyond just those, it’s all of us.