Tim Potts, chief, Purdue University Fort Wayne Police Department
Sure, it’s a cliché, but Tim Potts admits donuts are his weakness.
Except for maybe his haircut, donuts are about the only stereotype the police chief fulfills during his duties, but he likes to give them away more than anything. Some mornings he’s on Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Mastodon Way handing them out for breakfast.
“Who doesn’t like donuts?” he said. “It’s a great way to start a conversation.”
It’s about having a servant’s heart. Potts’ duties include enforcing campus rules and maintaining public order, but he’d rather communicate beforehand with someone so maybe the situation doesn’t reach that far. He prefers the “Protect and Serve” portion of the law enforcement motto, and sometimes that happens out of uniform as much as in.
Potts says his job is really about developing relationships and asking, “How many people did you help today?”
“I want the officers to lead by example, I want them to get out of the car, I want them to interact with people,” Potts said. “It’s important for them to see me walking the walk and talking the talk. That’s what I like most about the job.”
That’s why he’s on bike patrol at least four days a week to see what’s out there and to be seen. It’s why he teaches a self-defense class, likes working out next to students at Gates Sports Center, and encourages his officers to teach CrossFit classes. It’s about reaching out to the community so that when there’s trouble, students feel comfortable reaching out to them, showing that officers are relatable people who want to help.
It’s why when most people address him as Chief Potts, he’s quick to say, “It’s Tim, it’s Tim, it’s Tim.”
It’s why he’s previously held “Blue and You” sessions with groups of students to talk about what they should expect from law enforcement, and the way to address the situation if those services were not sufficient, whether it’s PFW or the Fort Wayne Police Department he works closely with.
“I have to keep telling the officers, ‘You can’t take things personally because you don’t understand the experiences some people have had with law enforcement coming from somewhere else,’” he said.
So, he encourages his 13 officers to build new experiences.
How did he develop this attitude and style? The high school aptitude tests he took in Brookston, near West Lafayette, said he was suited to teaching, social service, and law enforcement. After attending St. Joseph’s College, he worked for the West Lafayette Police Department before joining the Purdue University force.
In 2015, Potts left Purdue to become the police chief at the University of Mississippi, where he dealt with Southeastern Conference football passion, protests after incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, Ku Klux Klan marches, and the removal of the Confederate flag from campus.
“I joked with them when all of this was happening that it wasn’t in the brochure,” Potts said with a grin. “I loved the challenge.”
And for a while, it looked like Potts might just stay in the south. His daughter’s plan was to graduate high school in Indiana and then attend Ole Miss, but she decided to stay close to home and enroll at PFW. He followed in 2018.
“By the grace of God, the position at PFW had opened up,” he said.
As a former cross-country runner and coach, Potts was familiar with Fort Wayne and the campus from competitions, and he still runs the course. There was also a brother who lived in Fort Wayne, and he spent summers visiting various college friends from the city. While he was at Purdue, he even drove over to help with the occasional self-defense class.
Graduating with an elementary education degree, his daughter thrived here, and so has Potts, who understands these are challenging times for law enforcement because of the need to recruit more officers, provide continued training, and help them understand increased scrutiny.
Maybe the hardest part of the job is not to take criticism personally.
“I know our officers do a good job. Is everyone perfect? Absolutely not. Get in line behind this guy,” he said, pointing to himself. “That’s what I tell everybody, you are going to make mistakes. I made some stupid ones in my life. Good people make mistakes. This is an educational environment, and it’s a good chance to teach them and to learn.”
He’s been approached a few times to see if there’s interest in moving on, but Potts said he’s happy at PFW.
“I haven’t looked to go anywhere else,” Potts said. “I feel like I’m at home, and so that’s why with the support I get here, you can’t beat it.”
Plus, everyone likes donuts.