Jeff Talbott has long seen leading UC Riverside’s police department as an ideal job and can’t think of a better time to be campus safety director and police chief.
A Riverside native with more than 40 years of public safety experience, Talbott joined UCR in December at a time when the campus is re-envisioning its approach to campus safety. The police department is now grouped with the newly created Health, Well-being, and Safety division that takes a holistic approach to safety.
Talbott spent 29 years with the California Highway Patrol and the past 11 years at University of Redlands as chief of the public safety department, which is made up of non-sworn, unarmed personnel.
“I thought ‘what an opportunity to bring the blend that I had between my two careers to UCR’,” Talbott said. “I thought it was very much in line with the direction UCR was going in, both from the law enforcement sworn (officer) side and the non-sworn safety side.”
The police department has sought to move from an enforcement approach to one of guardianship, working with other departments to offer resources such as counseling or basic needs assistance to best serve the campus community. It has also hired a team of four non-sworn, unarmed campus safety responders who respond to a variety of issues where an armed officer is not needed.
The changes are reflected in Talbott’s job title, which now includes campus safety director as well as police chief.
“What we’re doing here at UCR with the whole re-envisioning and the holistic approach, that’s the direction that policing needs to go and it’s the direction policing should have gone a long time ago,” Talbott said.
He believes police need to approach their jobs as guardians, not enforcers, with their role to serve and protect their community by working together.
Talbott said he learned at the University of Redlands that policing a campus requires a different approach from traditional law enforcement.
“On a campus you are much more ingrained and a part of the community,” he said. “You have to listen, you have to respond to the community in the way they want their services delivered.”
As part of that approach, Talbott sees an important part of his job as being out on campus and meeting with students, faculty, and staff.
Talbott said he sees that commitment to serving the campus in the department employees.
“The more I get to know the staff here the more impressed I am at how dedicated they are to this community, how they truly get it,” he said.
Talbott noted that 44% of the department’s personnel are UCR alumni, a sign of their ties to the campus community. He hopes to continue that trend as well as further diversifying the staff, especially when it comes to hiring more women. He supports the 30X30 initiative in which police agencies across the country have pledged to recruit at least 30% women by 2030.
“We have to reflect the community that we serve,” Talbott said. “Until we reach that point, we still have more work to do.”
Talbott attributes his interest in law enforcement to growing up around people who worked in the criminal justice system. His father was a juvenile traffic court judge and often socialized with police officers on weekends.
When he turned 21, Talbott applied for jobs with the Riverside Police Department, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, and the CHP. The latter was the first agency to offer him a job and he accepted.
After completing his 21-week CHP police academy course in Sacramento, Talbott’s first job was patrolling South Central Los Angeles in 1982. Although the CHP is often associated with working on freeways, the agency also patrols unincorporated county areas and Talbott got to know the communities.
While often seen as a rougher area, Talbott describes it as a rewarding experience where he met wonderful people who welcomed him.
“The thing I learned at the CHP, whether I was working in a desert, coastal, or metropolitan area, was just knowing how to deal with people,” he said. “Regardless of where you live, people want to be treated fairly, they want to be treated properly, and with respect.”
Talbott worked up and down the state for the CHP in different regions and moved up the ranks before retiring in 2011 as chief of the CHP’s Inland Division, which oversees Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Although he completed almost 30 years with the CHP, Talbott felt he had more to contribute and joined the University of Redlands. He got to know previous UCR police chiefs and often joked he hoped to have their job one day.
Growing up in Riverside, UCR’s important role in the region has stood out to him since he was young and attended events on campus with his family. Since then, he’s been impressed with the progress UCR has made in expanding access to education and is proud to join the campus.
“To be able to change lives across the spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds, that’s just huge,” he said. “That’s what’s going to make a difference in our world, bringing that kind of change in our society.”