ACU Police Chief Jimmy Ellison’s career as a police officer started out normal: as a patrolman straight out of the police academy in the mid ’80s. At the Beaumont Police Department, he eventually worked his way up the ranks to sergeant and then transferred to the narcotics department before finally making the move to ACU, where’s he’s now in his 15th year of serving and protecting the ACU community. But since his days as a patrol officer at Beaumont, Chief Ellison has worked hard to implement strong leadership and effective changes that make the ACUPD not just normal, but exceptional.
But how did Chief Ellison even end up in Abilene, 500 miles away from Beaumont? Mark Lewis, Vice President for the Student Engagement’s Office, played a role in convincing Ellison to make the big move to ACU.
Before either of them moved to Abilene, Lewis was a youth minister at the Westgate Church of Christ in Beaumont, where Chief Ellison and his family attended church. The two became good friends there for several years before Lewis came to ACU for grad school and ended up staying to work here. Then in 2001, there was a transition within the campus police department.
“The person who had served as chief of the department retired and was talking with the dean of students about who could we possibly invite to consider applying, and I thought about Jimmy. I call him Chief now, that’s what I call him all the time, but back then he was just Jimmy,” Lewis said. “I don’t recall actually being a part of any of the interviews, but I was given the honor of being handed an ACU credit card and reservations to Perini’s. My wife and I took he and his wife out to dinner and it was just old friends getting back together, but it also gave us an opportunity. I remember him looking at me and going, ‘So, what do you think about this job really?’ And I got to tell him about what it was like working at ACU and how I really thought it was a good thing.”
So, Chief Ellison accepted the job and moved to Abilene with his son, Chris Ellison, in August of 2001, while his wife and two daughters stayed in Beaumont to finish out the school year. For those first few months at ACUPD, they lived in apartment 711 in University Park.
“A 12-year-old and his dad, 500 miles from the only city either of us had ever called home,” Chris said. “He worked harder than any other man in making sure that he attended every single middle school football game, helping with every science project even when I waited until the last minute to start, cooking the same meal for 4 months straight of grilled chicken breast on a George Foreman with mashed potatoes and Del Monte green beans – all of this while still going to work and making sure that he kept this campus safe and running while still raising it to the level that he wanted to bring it to.”
When Chief Ellison took over as head of the ACUPD 15 years ago, the police department looked quite a bit different than it does today – it was housed in half of the old WFF office building across from Nelson Hall and consisted of a few police officers, one security guard, a few poorly managed police cars and a golf cart, Chris said. Fifteen years later, ACUPD now has a fleet of fully-equipped vehicles and a fully-certified force with 24/7 patrol capabilities. Chief Ellison was also instrumental in getting the department more professional tools and tactics, including body cameras and tasers. When the Virginia Tech shooting happened in 2007, he took that as an opportunity to update his own department and train for active shooter and hostage situations. He and ACUPD also hold training seminars and real life training not only for other campus police departments, but for surrounding Big Country departments as well.
ACUPD Lt. Randy Motz, who has worked with Chief Ellison for five years, said a lot of the changes within the department happened before he started working here but he had still heard about everything Chief Ellison had accomplished – most notably transforming ACUPD to function more like a police department instead of just campus security.
“We’re sworn in under the Abilene Police Department and that allows us to go off-campus within a certain jurisdiction,” Motz said. “It helps us get to our students, faculty and staff off-campus and the nearby campus area, because obviously when hit your junior year you can live off-campus. It’s really a win-win situation, for both citizens and students because they essentially get twice the amount of police out in there area, APD and us. He was instrumental in that, so that was a big transformation.”
Since Chief Ellison has over 30 years of experience in law enforcement, he’s able to transfer his experience and knowledge to the younger officers within his department – even Motz, who also has 30 years of police experience, said he’s still able to learn things from his boss. Motz also said Chief Ellison has honed a department where they’re able to do police work within the ACU culture that maintains respect, dignity and grace for people.
“I’ve had lots of bosses in 30 years, lots of supervisors – he’s probably one of the best, if not the best to work for,” Motz said. “He treats all of us like grown men and women, he lets us do our job. If we make mistakes, he lets us learn from them but he doesn’t lose his mind over it. I just know that he really knows how the university works, he knows the history, he knows a lot about law enforcement. It’s a good feeling having him here, especially when things get a little bit tough.”
Chris said that people in Beaumont still talk about things Chief Ellison did while he was there – including an investigation that brought down corruption within the city government, which landed several city council members and the mayor in prison. He was also awarded Investigator of the Year while in Beaumont, and since coming to ACU, he was President of the Texas Association of College and University Police Administrators in 2012.
“He is a chief that wants the face of his department to not be his own, but to be a collective face of his dedicated and hard working officers,” Chris said. “If you were to go ask any of his officers, office staff, or student workers they would all say that he is an incredible man to work for. But most of all he is a family man…he will do anything for his family, and that family includes anyone who walks in and out of the station doors each day. If being able to live in a two bedroom, on campus apartment for a year with his 12-year-old son 15 years ago says anything about a man and his pursuance of excellence, just go look through the second door on the right once you enter the ACU police station and you will see the face of that man.”