Police Chief Paul Henisey
“That’s what I’ll miss most: the people,” says outgoing Police Chief Paul Henisey. “The UCI community is collegial, dynamic and fascinating, and it’s going places. I’m glad I’ve been able to be a part of it.” Steve Zylius / UC Irvine

His career has included security details for four U.S. presidents and the Dalai Lama, but UC Irvine Police Chief Paul Henisey says he’s most proud of less visible but more important aspects of his job: sexual assault prevention programs and training, customer-oriented community policing and detective work on identity theft.

That commitment to the UCI community is just one quality the campus will miss when Henisey retires his badge April 17 after 10 years on the job. It has fueled his quest to forge better relationships with surrounding emergency response agencies, improve disaster and crisis training, and upgrade the professionalism of UCI Police Department officers.

Henisey has served on the University of California steering committee for the prevention of violence against women. He directs the systemwide special response team and was campus coordinator of the panel that reassessed crowd management and intervention after the pepper spray incident at UC Davis.

His work – which earned him a Violence Prevention Coalition of Orange County Ambassador of Peace Award in 2013 – has put him in touch with thousands of students, staff and faculty members who help make UCI one of the safest UC campuses.

“That’s what I’ll miss most: the people,” he says. “The UCI community is collegial, dynamic and fascinating, and it’s going places. I’m glad I’ve been able to be a part of it.”

Henisey arrived at UCI in 2005 after 29 years at the Newport Beach Police Department. He received a Medal of Valor there in 1980 for his actions after a bank robbery and shooting, and he retired as a captain.

Law enforcement was not where he expected to land when he graduated from USC with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1976. “I was working in an electronics store in Glendale, and I realized I didn’t really want to be an accountant,” Henisey says. “My brother-in-law was with the LAPD, and I had friends in law enforcement, so that’s how I got into it.”

He was awarded a master’s degree in public administration at USC in 1981 and graduated from the FBI National Academy in 1991.

Fast-forward to July 2008. The chief has dispatched three UCI detectives to Texas, where, along with Dallas County district attorney investigators and Fort Worth police officers, they arrest a suspect for fraudulent use of identifying information in conjunction with thefts involving UCI graduate and medical students.

The arrest comes just four months after the suspect stole Social Security numbers from computers at United Healthcare, a student insurance provider in Dallas, and used them to file and collect on false income tax returns. It necessitated hundreds of hours of work, dozens of interviews and complicated computer analyses by UCI Sgts. Tony Frisbee and Shaun Devlin, UCI Cpl. Caroline Altamirano and Office of Information Technology security chief Isaac Straley, all under Henisey’s leadership. The identity theft investigation team was recognized the following year by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for its work.

“The reality is that we wouldn’t have figured this out without Paul Henisey’s support,” Straley says. “We assumed at first it was something connected to UCI, and when it became clear it was outside the campus, he was willing to devote the criminal and technical resources and keep the administration supportive. To actually be able to make an arrest in these cases is unheard-of.”

When he’s not tracking down bad guys around the country, Henisey keeps the peace on the home front. Normally tranquil, UCI experiences some of the same problems that would crop up in any community of nearly 50,000 people. A former graduate student was sentenced to life in prison in 2014 for the 2009 murder of his ex-wife on campus. The tragedy attracted news reporters and caused anxiety in the graduate student community.

“From his ability to effortlessly manage the Emergency Operations Center during a crisis to sitting up front and fielding difficult questions during a tense Town Hall meeting,” says his assistant chief Jeff Hutchison, “Paul Henisey such an air of calm and confidence about him, which allows him to explain situations or present information in a straightforward, thoughtful and eloquent manner that is truly impressive.”

Student unrest around tuition increases has caused tense encounters and property damage, as well. And less than three weeks before Henisey’s retirement, a man-with-gun incident resulted in a nearly 30-minute campus lockdown – during Chancellor Howard Gillman’s investiture ceremony. The police chief and his force handled the disruption so smoothly that few attending the event, in the Irvine Barclay Theatre, were even aware of it.

“This is indicative of how Paul has strengthened the campus’s ability to respond to the increasingly complex set of risks facing college campuses nationwide,” says Wendell Brase, vice chancellor for administrative and business services. “He has been instrumental in forging strong ties within the UCI Police Department, the campus community and the University of California and elsewhere throughout the state. These relationships serve the campus well and will stand as a strong foundation for UCI’s next chief of police.”

One challenge for that person will be maintaining the unique quality of UCIPD recruits, who must be able to relate in a productive way to students, elite faculty members and administrators, and important visitors.

“I’ve worked very hard to hire the best staff we can,” Henisey says. “It’s tough to compete with larger departments that can pay more. We look for people who are responsive and have a customer service approach that recognizes our population is mostly 18 to 24 years old and policing is more about education than enforcement.”

While his successor wrestles with such issues, Henisey will be helping to plan his youngest daughter’s wedding and immersing himself in a longtime family interest: railroad history. The city of Perris, Calif. – named after his great-great-grandfather Fred T. Perris – is home to the Orange Empire Railway Museum, which holds its annual Rail Festival the weekend Henisey retires. He’ll be a volunteer docent there until eventually moving to Reno, Nev., where he has property.