Published January 24, 2018
As a new Patrol Division officer with the Buffalo Police Department, Gerald W. Schoenle Jr. began applying what he had learned inside Erie Community College classrooms outside, on city streets.
It was 1980. Three years earlier, Schoenle had earned an associate’s degree in applied science from ECC with an eye toward a career in law enforcement.
“I pursued the degree with an option in police science,” says Schoenle, who has served as chief of University Police for the past 12 years and is wrapping up a nearly four-decade career in law enforcement on Jan. 25.
“I landed a job as a patrol officer with the city of Buffalo, which gave me the opportunity to move forward in law enforcement,” he says. “I wanted to make the most of it.”
Schoenle went on to earn a BS and MS in criminal justice from Empire State College and Buffalo State College. He reached the rank of captain after 13 years with Buffalo PD before being named director of public safety training with Erie County Central Police Services in 2000.
While with Erie County, Schoenle continued what would be a career-long focus on bringing professional development, departmental accreditations, high-level training and use of technology into policing and law enforcement.
“For me that really started when I was with the city of Buffalo,” says Schoenle. “Gil Kerlikowske was commissioner at the time. He was a big proponent of community policing and technology in law enforcement, and he gave me a lot of opportunities which really worked to move me in that direction in developing my philosophy of law enforcement.
“My first year there, he sent me to a conference titled “Problem Oriented Policing,” a policing strategy that involves identifying and analyzing specific crime and disorder problems in order to develop effective response strategies,” he says.
“It got me thinking about law enforcement in a different way. This was back in 1994.”
In 2005, Schoenle’s career shifted from Erie County to Arlington, Texas, where he was named assistant chief of police.
“One of the things about Arlington — it’s a state and nationally accredited police department,” he says, “They are very progressive, very focused on community policing.”
But even while he was working in Texas, Schoenle did not sell his home in Eggertsville.
“I was looking for a chief of police job while I was in Arlington. I didn’t think I would be back in Western New York because most police departments in New York, with civil service, hire from within.”
At the time, however, UB was doing a national search for a chief of police, which caught Schoenle’s attention.
“While I was with Buffalo, I was part of a community policing project at UB that addressed community and crime-related problems,” he recalls. “UB led the committee. We met on the South Campus, in Allen Hall, but the project covered both campuses.”
Schoenle notes family connections to UB as well. “Both of my daughters had taken classes here and my wife, Joanne, is an alumna of the library science program. She also got her undergraduate degree here.
“I already knew quite a bit about the university,” he says, “so it was a perfect fit from both ends.”
Joshua B. Sticht, University Police deputy chief, says that one of the many things Schoenle did when he was chosen to lead University Police was to refocus the department’s use of training resources to the professional development of officers, investigators and lieutenants.
“Before he was appointed, we had not sent anyone through the FBI National Academy since 1985. Two years after he arrived, Chief Schoenle started to submit University Police lieutenants for consideration,” Sticht says, adding that since that time, University Police has had six lieutenants graduate from the FBI National Academy.
Chris Bartolomei, University Police assistant chief, noted that when Schoenle arrived at UB in 2006, his first goal was for University Police to become a fully accredited police department within one year. “We were officially awarded accreditation by the Department of Criminal Justice Services in December of 2007,” he says.
“Chief Schoenle’s dedication to adopting national best practices has not only put UB on the leading edge of the profession, but also led to improvements in policing throughout the SUNY system,” Bartolomei says.
“UB Police blazed a trail when we became the very first university police department in the state to be awarded accreditation by the DCJS (Division of Criminal Justice Services). In the years since, nearly half of SUNY’s other 28 campuses have followed suit.
“Jerry’s generosity and positive demeanor make him an easy person to work for, but he has also been persistent when it comes to meeting our goals, and that has made the difference for the department,” he says.
Laura E. Hubbard, vice president for finance and administration, says under Schoenle’s leadership, University Police has become an integral part of the UB campus community.
“UB is very complex, and Jerry has always understood the importance of building a mutually beneficial relationship between our students, faculty and staff and UB’s police,” Hubbard says. “He leaves UB with a police department whose officers handle day-to-day issues, as well as emergencies, with professionalism and care.”
Schoenle found his deep experience in community policing was a good fit at UB. “University Police officers here have always done it, to some extent, and we have been building community policing into our training for a number of years now,” he says.
“The greater focus on it has had a positive effect on many aspects of UPD’s relationship with the university community. One example is in statistics that have just come out, showing a decrease in certain types of on-campus crimes, such as robberies, car break-ins and other crimes of opportunity,” he says.
“But we also have moved forward in other ways to enhance what we are doing.
“Implicit bias is within all of us,” he says. “And it is especially critical for police officers to recognize it within themselves and within a police department.”
After attending a training session in 2015 on fair and impartial policing with Commissioner of University Police Paul Berger, Schoenle says they felt the concept was a good fit with university law enforcement.
“In January of 2016 we offered it to 26 police trainers from every SUNY campus. They attended a training session and took it back to their departments,” says Schoenle, who was president of the SUNY Chiefs of Police at the time. “We are the first university system to do this. That year we also began, and completed, training the UB police force in recognizing and managing implicit bias.”
Schoenle says the past few years have brought new policies and procedures, along with new technologies, to UB’s police department. But he is quick to point out that “everything we have accomplished is the result of a great team effort by the entire department.”
Barbara J. Ricotta, associate vice president for student affairs, says Schoenle has approached every situation with optimism and a steady hand.
“Jerry’s reserved demeanor and sensitivity toward students were just a few of the impressive qualities he portrayed. He is the kind of person you rely on, never hesitate to call and is wonderful to work with,” she says.
“From the minute I met Jerry, I knew he was the right man for the job. UB is lucky to have had him as our police chief.”
Looking back, Schoenle says one of the best things about his job, and why UB is so good for community policing, is that in an emergency situation, there are always departments and compassionate people who become involved.
“They are highly trained and assist in a rapid and professional manner,” Schoenle says. “The staffs of Campus Living, University Communications, Campus Life, University Facilities, and Environment, Health and Safety are right there to respond and assist.
“At UB, you always have people ready to help, whether it’s someone who needs first aid, or a student who is in a car accident — and maybe he or she is from China and their family needs to be notified. This type of assistance is always provided to members of the campus community and it is something that stands out about UB,” he says.
“The care and compassion people here have for the students is something that is going to stay with me.”