Meet the Experts: Greg Mullen
Greg Mullen recently began at Clemson as interim associate vice president for public safety and chief of police within the Division of Student Affairs. Mullen had served as a consultant following his retirement as chief of police from 2006–17 in Charleston, South Carolina. In all, he has 35 years of experience in law enforcement, including time in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
In his current role, Mullen is charged with leading the Clemson University Police Department (CUPD) while also serving as a key executive under Vice President for Student Affairs Almeda Jacks.
We recently caught up with Mullen to discuss his lengthy career in law enforcement, first impressions of Clemson and hobbies outside of work.
Q: What was the biggest selling point on the opportunity here at Clemson?
Mullen: Clemson is a well-respected institution with a national brand. When I learned of this opportunity, I felt it was a perfect place for me to utilize all the education, training and experience that I had developed over my career. This newly created position would offer me the opportunity to guide daily operational matters and think strategically about the future of public safety at the university. At this stage of my career, my primary focus is on adding value to organizations, so they are prepared to face the safety and security challenges present in our environment and helping individual police officers reach their full potential. This position, in my view, allows me to meet those goals.
Q: Did you have any prior connections to the university?
Mullen: I did not have a prior connection. I have many good friends in Charleston who are alumni and others that are longtime Clemson fans. I’ve been involved in law enforcement in South Carolina for 11 years, so I’ve gotten to know some of the chiefs and sheriffs in the area, which will be helpful moving forward. While I did not have a direct connection to the university, I am honored to have been asked to serve in this position. It is a great opportunity.
Q: How can your previous experiences in law enforcement help in this role?
Mullen: I’ve worked in several agencies of different size and served in many roles. Virginia Beach was a large agency with nearly 1,000 officers and a population of approximately half a million people. Plus, it was a tourist destination which added several more million visitors. During my tenure there, I was able to learn and implement incident management processes and systems. I also learned how to manage expectations of individuals who were visiting to create memorable experiences while being safe. Understanding the philosophy surrounding tourism management in Virginia Beach and Charleston is not the same as the experience you get on a college campus, but it is certainly similar. There are many of the same dynamics — people are coming to a new environment to enjoy the experience of a lifetime. As the host, you want to make sure they can do so safely and in a way that does not endanger the environment or other people. In Charleston, not only did we deal with tourists, but also there were over 20,000 students in the city from The Citadel, Charleston Southern, College of Charleston and MUSC. There was a constant mix of tourists and students in the downtown area who were interested in the same things — engaging in social activities, having fun and being safe. Having experience in this type of diverse environment will be beneficial at Clemson. I understand the importance of balancing public safety while creating an environment where people feel free to enjoy themselves. At Clemson, our goals are to educate students and make sure they go out and impact the world, while providing a safe and enjoyable environment for them to grow and enjoy their college experience.
Additionally, I believe that my educational background, training and experience as it relates to critical incident response is a plus. The fact I have been through real-world incidents helps me understand the importance of proper preparation, training and constantly thinking about what could happen. I’ve been able to learn from all of those experiences. I did not want to go through any of them, however, the fact I was able to experience these incidents in the community has given me a unique set of skills and perspective on why creating relationships and trust among the people you work with is so important. When a major incident occurs, people need to trust that you will do the right thing. You can’t respond only from a law enforcement perspective, you must respond from a community perspective and the needs of the people within it. How do we empathize and care for them from the beginning of an incident all the way through the aftermath? In some cases, that can take years. All the experiences I had in Charleston made me a better leader and helped me better understand all the components associated with a major event you could experience at any moment. It has embedded in me the importance of relationships and building community connections. We cannot just focus on investigating cases, enforcing laws or looking at things from a law enforcement perspective. We must constantly ask ourselves, how do we prevent negative things from happening, and how are we prepared to respond when they do?
Q: What are some of the positives and challenges to working on a college campus?
Mullen: The positives are obviously the fact you can create an environment where young people and non-traditional students come to learn and enjoy an experience that will take them into the next chapter of their lives. We want them to have fun, mature and experience life while helping them avoid mistakes that can negatively impact their lives. This does not include just the students. There are many opportunities and events for alumni on the campus. While this offers positive opportunities, it also creates challenges.
It seems almost daily we have an event on campus where the first responder community is responsible for providing safety and security. In some cases, that may be taken for granted — when you have a history without critical incidents, people may become complacent. The natural inclination is to think, “Why should we spend the time or money to prepare and make changes when nothing has happened in the past?” It can be difficult to demonstrate to individuals what you have prevented by having well-trained, well-prepared police, fire, EMS and emergency management personnel. It takes time and money to develop these capabilities. In the end, the work and preparation we do is to prevent a critical incident from occurring and if it does occur, to have the best possible response.
Sometimes changes may need to occur because of security concerns in today’s environment. Events across the country demonstrate that threats come in many forms. We don’t want to create panic and fear, but at the same time, we must understand Clemson University has an international brand. We are not a university short on attention. We must be attentive to the safety of students, faculty and staff, as well as protective of the brand. In my role, part of my responsibility is to understand how the brand impacts the economics of the university and the surrounding area. The money spent on protecting the people, facilities and reputation will be far less than would be spent recovering from a major crisis.
Q: What has the transition been like as you’ve adjusted to life at Clemson?
Mullen: All the people I’ve met have been very helpful and eager to make the organization a better place. Everyone recognizes the Clemson University Police Department must be top-notch. We need to have the equipment, training and quality people necessary for a university of this notoriety and profile.
My wife is still in Charleston, so that is still a bit of a challenge. But I’m starting to feel my way around and have begun meeting the law enforcement executives in the area. That is going well.
Internally, I recognize the organization has a lot of great people. We are reviewing policies and practices and making some adjustments. We are working hard to be prepared for the next academic year and upcoming football season. I’m reviewing Event Action Plans and security protocols to gain a complete understanding of how it all works. I am staying very busy and I like that. I’m an action-oriented person. I like making positive, forward movement. I have some ideas I think will help us going forward, and I am confident we will get the support needed to make the necessary changes.
Q: Clemson multiplies to be one of the biggest cities in the state on a football gameday; what experiences have you had with similar crowd sizes in your previous work?
Mullen: The closest event to a football Saturday would be the Cooper River Bridge Run. It brings about 100,000 people into the city. But it’s not just Charleston, it includes North Charleston and Mount Pleasant. The event has similar comparisons in terms of working with multiple agencies. The Bridge Run covers four jurisdictions and probably 40 different entities of police, fire and EMS, National Guard, volunteers and organizers. The difference is that it’s spread out over a much broader space. The start line is about 40,000 people in one spot, but it disperses and spreads out. It’s going to be different for me with 100,000 people in a very confined space; however, I am looking forward to the experience. I think every environment is unique; it’s going to require me to stand back, watch, evaluate and learn. Then, I hope to be able to offer ideas or suggestions that may make the process better based on current challenges and threats.
Q: What has it been like integrating with Vice President for Student Affairs Almeda Jacks and her team?
Mullen: I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the other associate vice presidents quite a few times, and the one takeaway every time is Almeda has a great team. Each of us understands our role, which is to make this environment the best it can possibly be for the students and those coming here to enjoy the Clemson Experience. And it’s not only while you’re a student, but also as alumni. I was at the May graduation ceremonies, and it was very clear to me once you come to Clemson, it’s not just a four- or five-year experience. I’ve been very pleased with our interactions and look forward to more. Almeda is a true professional and knows her business well. She is committed to doing the right thing, which is the No. 1 value for me. We have a job to do and doing it with integrity is the foundation of our success.
Q: When you do find time for yourself, what are some things you enjoy?
Mullen: I focus on health and fitness. I enjoy physical activity and work out quite a bit. I like to fish and understand there are great opportunities for that in the Clemson area. I read a lot; I believe it’s important to read and learn throughout your life. I spend a lot of time with my wife, Kedron. I have a son, Chet, who just finished his enlistment in the U.S. Coast Guard. He is planning to finish his degree at The Citadel this fall. Having been the chief in Charleston, it was pretty much my life. I invested a lot into the job and community, so the family didn’t spend as much time together as we would have wanted to. While the requirements and commitment to building relationships and trust here in Clemson will be the same, I am hopeful that the work/life balance will be better.