Get to Know Dave Hawkins, UM-Dearborn chief of police

September 20, 2023

Hawkins brings 20-plus years of U-M police experience and a love of the community to his UM-Dearborn Public Safety leadership role.

Portrait of Dave Hawkins, UM-Dearborn's police chief
Police Chief Dave Hawkins Photo/Julianne Lindsey

If you are on campus, odds are that you’ve seen Chief of Police Dave Hawkins walking the university grounds — that’s something he does on a nearly daily basis. Maybe you ran into him as he helped students move into the Union this fall. He also stops in to cheer at sporting events and takes time to meet with student groups, office staff and faculty departments.

In short: He’s everywhere. And, more importantly, he’s accessible.

In a conversation with Reporter, Hawkins, who assumed his role as campus’s new police chief on Aug. 5, agreed to answer some police pop culture prompts. He said his favorite doughnut is Boston cream because it reminds him of childhood treats his dad would bring home from The Custard Hut in Dearborn Heights. His favorite police shows include Adam-12, because of the cool action figures, and T.J. Hooker because of William Shatner.

When asked about a memorable on-the-job moment, the conversation became more serious.

Hawkins said he took part in a statewide “Pancakes & Politics” discussion several years ago.  As an officer, he volunteered to attend the forum to listen to and learn from people of color in the community. During the event, Black men spoke about the fear they felt during routine traffic stops. Participants shared stories of racial profiling, verbal and physical abuse, and other reasons why there was a lack of trust between officers and community members of color.

“It was absolutely unforgettable. There was so much pain and raw emotion. People shared how they were policed based on their appearance and how poorly they’ve been treated. I thought I had an understanding, but, as the event went on, it became more and more apparent how unaware I really was,” Hawkins said. “Even if I saw myself as one of the good guys and I knew of the great work the officers were doing in our department, the people with these lived experiences didn’t see me as a good guy. Listening to negative encounter after negative encounter, I understood why. We may not have done these things, but we represented the people who had.”

Hawkins said unchecked power due to a lack of accountability and transparency can be dangerous. He contends it's a good thing that body cameras and microphones are now standard, and it's important for people to continue speaking out when they see injustice. “It’s our responsibility as officers to be accountable and to hold each other accountable. The more that happens, the more opportunities there will be to rebuild trust,” he said.

Hawkins said the officers he knows are dedicated to their mission “to protect and to serve.” “We got into this line of service for a reason, and that reason is to serve the people in our communities,” he said. “Most officers do the right things for the right reasons every day. And we’ve got some great officers at U-M.”

Hawkins would know. He has a proven track record in law enforcement with leadership roles as  the University of Michigan Division of Public Safety and Security’s deputy chief, lieutenant and sergeant. During his 22 years with DPSS, Hawkins has made it a point to skillfully balance police operations and community well-being. He transferred to UM-Dearborn in May 2022 to serve as deputy chief of police for former UM-Dearborn Police Chief Gary Gorski, who relocated to the west side of the state.

Hawkins and his UM-Dearborn officers make it a priority to get out in the community and talk to people about everyday life like families, pets, sports and hobbies. They are on staff kickball teams, participate in scavenger hunts, greet students at Wolverine Welcome Day and more. 

Hawkins said it's important to be out and about on campus so officers learn what people want and need — and then, when possible, work to make it happen. For example, UM-Dearborn community members have shared there’s a need for a campus-based trainer who can teach first-aid classes. In response, Public Safety is in the process of hiring someone to fill that role.

Hawkins said the community aspect is why he worked so hard to become an officer in the first place and that police role models in his metro Detroit community left a positive impression on him. “I looked up to them and the work they did,” he said.” I knew I wanted to be an officer too.”

After high school, Hawkins joined the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. After he completed his service, he was offered an opportunity to work as a private investigator. The role included detective work, but it wasn’t the community-minded position Hawkins had dreamed about. After doing some career research, Hawkins realized that a police officer position required a post-secondary education. To support his growing family and education, he enrolled at Eastern Michigan University. He worked the night shift as a custodian so he could take criminal justice classes during the day.

“There was little sleep and a lot of hustle, but you do what you need to do to make things work,” he said. “I ended up graduating with a 3.98 GPA in three years. My son Josh was born right after that. Everything worked out.” Through the custodian position, Hawkins made a connection to UM-Ann Arbor’s Department of Public Safety, leading to his first role as an officer in April 2001.

That was more than two decades ago. Since that time, he’s continued to look for opportunities for personal and professional growth. Josh is now a young adult and a UM-Dearborn student. Hawkins is only a few credits shy of a master's degree in technology with a concentration in public safety and emergency management. He said is proud to be the police chief for a university that values community.

“We have a good group of folks in our department and all across our university. They work hard, but still have time for a little fun too,” Hawkins said. “I’m glad to be part of such a close-knit community that prioritizes people and I look forward to building even stronger relationships between students, faculty and staff and our officers.”

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.