UTPD’s assistant chief of police Terry McMahan’s extensive role appears simple on paper – assist the chief, keep the budgets balanced and coordinate – a role he has filled for 13 of his 30 years in UT System’s police force. But McMahan said his job is constantly evolving, and with a new chief of police coming in, things look like they will continue to shift. Somethings, however, will always remain the same.
“I think there’s been a lot of change in my career,” McMahan said. “But I think everything we need to know about staying safe we learned in kindergarten.”
McMahan said he remembers when police work was done with a pen and pencil, and when coordination between state, federal and local law enforcement agencies – a common practice in post 9/11 America – was a rare occurrence.
“9/11 changed law enforcement so that we communicate better with each other,” McMahan said. “Back in the old days, each law enforcement worked their own cases, and we really didn’t talk about our cases with other police entities. Nowadays, if we got something happening on the campus, it may likely be happening in the city. If we communicate better with one another, we’re able to solve crime easier.”
Similarly, changes in technology have left a lasting impact on policing, and McMahan said things like social media have boosted the need for transparency and student outreach.
“Technology has really sky-rocketed, like in everything else,” McMahan said. “When I was on the streets, we really didn’t have in-car cameras. We didn’t have Facebook or Twitter back then either. We try really hard to put ourselves out there through that medium as well.”
McMahan said one of UTPD’s highest priorities is student concern around campus, and said the department has taken steps to ensure their ears and doors remain open to students.
“We’re always interested in student voices” McMahan said. “For instance, we meet with student government and try to provide them with the best information we can to help them make their decisions, and our crime prevention unit meets with a lot organizations.”
McMahan said he is confident David Carter, UTPD’s new chief of police, will continue to uphold the standards of transparency and outreach laid out by his predecessor, Robert Dahlstrom.
“It’s always good to have your ears open to what students are saying, Chief Dahlstrom did an excellent job of that,” McMahan said. “I think chief Carter will continue that. He’s a solid individual with a great reputation.”
Members of student government said UTPD shows a strong presence at their assemblies, noting that high ranking officers including McMahan and Dahlstrom are often in attendance.
“We had a representative that wanted to take on the police’s stance on marijuana,” said Taylor Ragsdale, a recent graduate who majored in finance and economics. “They wanted to lower marijuana on the priority list. While that resolution was not well-received by the rest of the assembly, UTPD did have a presence at the hearing and Chief Dahlstrom gave his own opinions on the matter.”
Other representatives say UTPD’s efforts to boost outreach and education are still an issue.
“I think [student outreach] needs to be addressed in the upcoming years, particularly making sure that students who live off campus, especially freshman, know how to keep themselves and their property safe,” said Andrew Houston, a resident assistant and student representative for the School of Architecture. “Organizations need to ensure their members are safe and understand all the resources that are available to them. The bridge needs to be built from both sides.”
McMahan majored in math and chemistry at UT Permean Basin, and admitted he did not know what he wanted to do while in college.
“Some people know what they want to do with their lives from the get go. I’m wasn’t one of those people,” McMahan said. “I’m not a traditional student. I was out of high school for ten years working the oil fields before I went to college.”
McMahan began his policing career as a part-time dispatcher for the UT Permean Basin police department, eventually becoming chief of police for the department, a position he held for 10 years before transferring to UTPD. McMahan said the experience he gained heading a small police department has been invaluable to the work he does within UTPD.
“I had a chance to come to the UT system police academy,” McMahan said. “I did that thinking it would be a few extra bucks a month while I earned my degree. Eventually, I became chief of police there. The job was really challenging.”
Dahlstrom said McMahan’s knowledge of chemistry often helped the department respond to chemically related incidents around campus.
“I cannot count how many times we had an incident at one of the labs that Terry was able to say ‘that is really bad stuff,’ or that [it didn’t pose much of a threat],” Dahlstrom said.“Terry always came through whenever something was needed. He knows how to balance the needs of the University with the needs of the employees. His goal is to help people.”
McMahan said his time away from department centers around his sons, one of whom will be a freshman in the fall. He enjoys sports like golfing, fishing and hunting. Typically, he roots for Texas teams, though he is partial to the San Antonio Spurs and University athletics.
Follow Alberto Long on Twitter @albertolong.