Humans at Sam: Chief Morris

People don’t have to throw themselves into the line of fire to be a hero. They don’t have to run into a burning buildings or tame crowds or provide emergency assistance. Many make these sacrifices on a daily basis though. Either that or they are preparing for and ultimately trying to prevent those moments. Director and Chief of the Sam Houston State University Police Department, Kevin H. Morris, is one of those heroes.

But Chief Morris didn’t plan to be a hero. He didn’t even know exactly what he wanted to do as an adult. It wasn’t until his senior year of high school, when his father introduced him to the Conroe PD sergeant and tagged along on his nightly shift that his engineering hopes shifted toward public service.

“I got to ride around in the city I grew up in, and until then I hadn’t realized how sheltered I was from all of the things occurring around me that I’d never seen before,” Chief Morris said.

Morris further describes his nightly shifts with the Conroe PD sergeant.

“It was like going to a circus, but not sitting in the audience,” he said. “It was like I was in the in the center of the floor and seeing all the motions going on and I was thinking, ‘Wow, that looks like a lot of fun!'”

That experience led Morris to become a student at Sam Houston State University, which is known for its criminal justice program. He enrolled in 1992, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice, and has experience in leadership and management.

“I started working as a student assistant writing parking citations in ’94, then became a police officer and kind of slowly worked my way up to the top,” Morris said. “I became the chief of police in September 2008.”

The Department of Public Safety has three main duties: parking, policing and emergency management. In addition to that, the chief does most of the department’s budgeting, and he encourages involvement in the community.

“Our jobs aren’t just making traffic stops, and things of that nature,” Morris said. “But being involved in our community, so that we don’t appear intimidating.”

When it comes to crime, missing or stolen property is the most common issue. In most cases it occurs because students accidentally leave their cell phones in a classroom or the library, and by the time they come back for it, it’s gone.

“Every year, especially during freshman orientations, we really try to promote the ‘hide, lock, take,’ so if you’re going to leave your stuff in your vehicle or room, hide it so that it’s out of sight and out of mind,” Chief Morris said.

The department’s website and students’ My Sam accounts also have a link to a property registration form, so that if their property is lost or stolen, and someone comes across it, it can be returned to its owner.

While that matter may seem trivial, it’s a simple service that combines students’ and officers’ efforts to ensure cooperation, security and relief on campus.

But not all tasks are so easily resolved. About three years ago there was an accident, where four students crashed into AB IV. Three were killed and one walked away.

“That was a really rough day, especially when a lot of officers have kids,” Chief Morris said. “I have kids that were about the age of those in the vehicle, and it really tugs at you.”

That incident, while horrific, only reinforces the university’s need for a police department.

“That’s why we make traffic stops, that’s why we make arrests when people are intoxicated – so that it doesn’t put you or others in danger,” Chief Morris said. “We don’t take joy in doing that, but we do take joy in our jobs and in providing a safe environment for students, faculty and staff to make sure that they succeed, and I think that’s the most rewarding part of it.”

Yet, surprisingly, it’s not so much engaging in activities that might be inherently dangerous, like drinking and driving, which are the biggest threat to students’ safety, but rather not being aware of one’s surroundings. The danger occurs when – if something is happening, or is about to happen – someone can’t articulate where they are. That’s when it becomes much more difficult to provide the assistance an individual is looking for.

“So often when I go through campus, I’ll see people buried in their phones and with their ear buds in, or in a relaxed mode,” Morris said. “We don’t often have many incidents or serious threats, so it’s very easy to become complacent.”

Ways to avoid this include knowing your location at all times and staying informed about things happening around campus.

“One of the biggest things has been the development of the KatSafe web page, which is one click away from our main website,” Morris said. “There will be a little bar across the bottom of the page saying, ‘Hey, there’s something going on,’ or, if it’s not an imminent threat, but there’s still something you should be aware of, the icon changes color.”

The university police department’s web page also lists every offense on campus. It’s generated daily, and students can view a little blurb about what the officer did, or what occurred, or maybe what a bystander recorded.

Another safety tip concerns what to do when something does happen.

“If you see something that looks suspicious or out of place, the next step is to alert someone so they can come check it out,” Morris said. “Once you make that phone call, then you can start filming or taking a picture or posting about it.”

This advice applies even to the recent “clown activities” around campus. Social media has really pushed the issue because people can save photos taken anywhere and exaggerate them. Usually the images are dark and the background isn’t clear, so people just see a clown and assume it was sighted nearby.

“I only have one investigator, and this has tied up a lot of resources,” Chief Morris said. “And we have yet to come across a person who has actually seen a clown. It’s frustrating because for some people it’s just a game, but others take it seriously.”

But this shouldn’t deter students from contacting the authorities if their gut is telling them something is off. They are here to provide a safe, positive environment for students, and they don’t want to make light of any concerns.

“What I like about working on a university campus is that the people here are looking for an education,” Morris said. “We’re dealing with some really good people, so we’re not always dealing with incidents that are bad.”

Like Chief Morris, there have been a number of people who worked as officers while they attended SHSU, and are now taking on challenging duties across the country. They work in the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Texas State Highway Patrol, one recently retired as a captain of the United States Army, another flies Apache helicopters and some are in the Secret Service.

“You hate to see them leave because they’re really good,” Morris said. “They want to do something bigger and better, where they can specialize, and that makes you feel good too.”

Student safety and success are the university’s top priorities, as it accomplished with former students such as these.

“I don’t know if everyone here sees that or not, but the faculty and staff are here 100 percent for the students,” Morris said. “Every day presents something a little different, and I always learn something new. That makes me proud to work here.”

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