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UMSL people DAN ISOM How his UMSL education helped him become St. Louis’ top cop for nearly 23 years. He began as a patrol officer and rose through the ranks while working in practically every unit including mobile reserve, police academy, internal affairs, audit advisory and community outreach. In October 2008, he was named chief of the department and its 1,900 employees. “I was really lucky in that I had a lot of people who took an interest in my career and mentored me along the way,” Isom says. “But even though I had a significant amount of experience over a short period of time in a lot of areas, I didn’t think I had a chance of becoming chief.” Jumping from the rank of major to chief is unusual. It’s only happened a few times in the history of the department. “There’s one more rank between major and chief, and that’s lieutenant colonel,” Isom says. “It took me 20 years to make it through four ranks, and that’s considered fast. I was 41 years old when I became chief, and I’m the youngest to have the title.” As the third African American police chief in St. Louis, Isom says he thinks what gave him an edge during the interview process was that he’d prepared a 25-page strategic plan for the department.

UMSL alumnus Dan Isom leads the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. He says he was initially drawn to joining the police force because of his interest in law, governmental politics and public service. (Photo by August Jennewein)

By Linda Tracy

One morning this winter, while many of us were still bleary-eyed and thinking of nothing beyond coffee, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Dan Isom had already visited a crime scene, talked with reporters and driven to a St. Louis-area hospital. The hospital stop was made to visit an officer who was shot in the leg while responding to a home invasion call. The officer was OK, and Isom once again navigated one of the more difficult parts of his job. “You get the phone call at 1:30 in the morning that an officer was shot, and of course, you think the worst,” Isom says. “There’s all the emotions going through you, and you’re driving down the highway. ... It’s the people being hurt, citizens being shot, young people dying. It’s a lot.” Isom, who earned bachelor’s (1994), master’s (2003) and doctoral (2008) degrees in criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, has worked in the city’s police department

“I had written a lot of papers while working on my degrees at UMSL that revolve around my plans for improving and strengthening the department,” he says. “In the interview, I was asked how I would face pertinent issues, and I had almost everything I’d written in the 20 years I’d been on the police force and at the university. A strategic plan hadn’t been written in a long time, or maybe ever, for the police department. I think that helped seal the deal.” But even with a solid plan, the job of police chief has a well-earned reputation for grinding away at the men and women who step into the role. The average length of service by police chiefs in the U.S. is about five years. “As chief, you have to make some really tough decisions internally, so it wears on the organization, and if things are going particularly bad in the community in terms of crime, people understandably get frustrated,” Isom says. Isom has several family members who have worked in police or fire departments. His father-in-law was a lieutenant colonel in St. Louis and a member of the department for 35 years, and his brother-inlaw is Ron Henderson, a former St. Louis police chief. “Ron jokingly told me, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it!’ when I asked if he thought I should pursue the job,” Isom says. “I seriously have a lot of support and understanding from my family. For me, that’s the most invaluable resource I can have.”

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UMSL Magazine: spring 2011  

The University of Missouri-St. Louis publishes UMSL Magazine for alumni and friends. The magazine highlights excellence at the university. C...

UMSL Magazine: spring 2011  

The University of Missouri-St. Louis publishes UMSL Magazine for alumni and friends. The magazine highlights excellence at the university. C...