Riseling grows into expanded role, responsibilities

Nov. 25, 2003

by Liz Beyler

When she became the university's police chief in 1991, Susan Riseling declared that her main focus and that of her department would be on proactive problem-solving and education.

Though she doesn't have a crystal ball, Riseling does have a knack for anticipating problems before they occur.

Nearly a year before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she called representatives of several campus offices and divisions together to participate in the development of a campuswide crisis response plan. The plan got its first real-life test on Sept. 11, when the crisis teams quickly gathered to decide how the university should respond to the tragedies. It was utilized again in late August of this year when the SoBIG e-mail virus infected approximately 2,200 computers on campus and threatened to spread.

Since 9/11, Riseling's role has expanded from supervising general campus security and law enforcement efforts to looking at a much bigger picture, including how to deal with increased concerns about bioterrorism and biosafety. Along with her new responsibilities has come the title of associate vice chancellor for protective services.

"Sue has shown tremendous leadership ability and foresight throughout her 12 years of outstanding service to the university community," says Chancellor John Wiley. "I have every confidence that she is going to make an even greater contribution in her new and expanded role as we continue to deal with the difficult issues that face us in the post-9/11 world."

"There is a very different set of criteria that gets applied when you have a broader campus focus," says Riseling. "You have to worry about all the other players who need to come to the table and the complexity of the issues, not just what the right thing is for law enforcement. My new responsibilities include helping determine what the collective campus needs to do."

The new areas that Riseling has assumed responsibility for include:

  • Emergency management. A whole series of emergency plans need to be created for the campus, not only to deal with natural disasters, but with threats of terrorism and actual cases that may occur.

    "We have the biggest stadium in the state, one of three nuclear reactors in Wisconsin, our own power plants, huge auditoriums and a history of political dissent," she says, "so it is clear that we need to be prepared."

  • Infrastructure security. The physical security of the university's buildings, grounds, power plants, water system and computer networks needs to be ensured.

    "These are the backbones of what makes this place go," notes Riseling, who says her job is to make sure that adequate security measures are in place to protect them.

  • Access control to facilities. Riseling notes that just about every campus facility has some level of access control, whether it is a key, a card, a key fob, a combination to punch in or a paper ticket.

    "As more of our buildings are renovated or are built brand new, it becomes more costly to keep going with multiple access control systems," she says.

    "The juggling act is allowing departments to keep their own identity and independence, while making sure that collectively they are well-served when it comes to maintenance, inventories, ease of use and those types of things," says Riseling.

  • Collaboration with the safety department. Riseling, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning and Management Alan Fish and Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Policy Tim Mulcahy are developing a more coordinated effort in addressing safety concerns for the campus.

"The safety department has to struggle more today with the post-September 11th securing of potentially hazardous substances that researchers are using in many different labs, as well as with new and complicated mandates from the federal government as to the level of security required," says Riseling.

"So much of that overlaps with access control, infrastructure security and emergency planning that you can begin to see why coordination is critical."

Riseling says the efforts are working well, and she believes it will pay large dividends for the university in the long run.

She emphasizes that all of the changes regarding her new areas of responsibility are being made with existing university resources.

Riseling took over leadership of her department following the retirement of longtime chief Ralph Hanson. She was the first woman to lead a Big Ten university police force, and one of only a few female police chiefs in the nation. Prior to her appointment, she had been the associate director of university police at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

During her tenure here, the campus has experienced a drop in the overall crime rate in every year but one. It is now at a 30-year low. Other achievements include:

  • Becoming in 1992 the first police agency in the state to outfit squad cars with mobile data computers;
  • Establishment of community policing on campus, as well as residence hall and athletics department liaison officers;
  • Creation of a Campus Crimestoppers program;
  • Implementation of Badger Watch, a soon-to-be campuswide crime prevention program similar to Neighborhood Watch;
  • Establishment of bicycle, motorcycle and canine units, and continued support for the mounted patrol;
  • Ongoing efforts to reach out to segments of the campus, including the international community, student government, LGBTQ students and students of color;
  • Police representation on several key campus committees.

"We have made an incredible leap from where we were in the early to mid-80s," says Assistant Chief Dale Burke.

"We are recognized as a department that engages in new and innovative thinking, and that has come about because of her leadership and vision. She has positioned us as one of the top police forces in the country, not just among the nation's campuses."

Burke says the chief's active involvement in professional organizations has brought international, national and statewide recognition of the UW department.

Riseling is serving a one-year term as president of the 550-member Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association. She is the first woman and the first university police chief to lead that organization.

In August, she was honored as 2003 Woman Law Enforcement Executive of the Year by the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Officers and Motorola.

"This award provides an opportunity for her years of hard work to be recognized with prestige and honor," concluded those who nominated her for the award. "As a leader, a woman and a police officer, Sue Riseling is a role model for everyone whose life she touches."