By JAY REY
Published September 14, 2023
Chris Bartolomei knew he wanted a career in public service, but he was thinking more as a high school civics teacher — not a police officer.
But Bartolomei would go on to serve UB and University Police for 27 years, rising through the ranks to police chief, until deciding to retire this past August. He will stay on in Bissell Hall until the search for the next chief is completed this fall.
“I wanted a job in public service,” Bartolomei says, “and this was definitely that.”
Looking back on his career, Bartolomei says it wasn’t tracking down suspects or making arrests that made him most proud.
It wasn’t starting a police bike-patrol training course that has trained hundreds of officers from area departments over the past 20 years.
Nor was it helping implement department programs, policies and procedures that led to both state and national accreditation — a recognition achieved by few police agencies.
But rather, Bartolomei is most proud of the strong police department he’s had a hand in building, largely through the hiring and training of its officers and staff, and the emphasis they place on professionalism and community policing.
“I come in and read the reports now, I see what they do, and it just impresses me. That’s the most rewarding thing,” Bartolomei says. “Some people underestimate the challenges involved with policing on a college campus, but I take a lot of pride in our staff and where the department is right now. I couldn’t ask for it to be better.”
Bartolomei’s career in law enforcement actually began as a chance occurrence. He was leaning toward teaching.
After graduating from SUNY Buffalo State, he agreed to a partnership in a restaurant, intending to work on his master’s degree in education during his spare time. But the hours in the restaurant business were too long and the pay too little.
Bartolomei, who had pondered policing, went to City Hall one day looking for information on the Buffalo police exam when he noticed a job posting for University Police. He was hired at UB in 1996 as an officer working the afternoon shift.
“I liked the college atmosphere. I liked being able to help people,” Bartolomei says. “I didn’t place the highest value on how many tickets I could write or how many arrests I could make. It was, ‘How could I make a situation that’s gone bad as good as I can?’ That’s the thing about policing. You try to make the best of a bad situation.”
Bartolomei earned his master’s in criminal justice administration from Niagara University and quickly climbed the ranks of the department, where he spent two-thirds of his career as a supervisor.
He was promoted to lieutenant in 2007; assistant chief of patrol operations in 2010; assistant chief in 2013; and interim police chief in 2018. Bartolomei was permanently appointed police chief at the end of 2018, responsible for managing, planning and directing the law enforcement activities of 61 sworn officers and 16 civilian employees who serve some 40,000 people each day across three campuses.
“Chris has been an excellent police chief — a thoughtful leader, collaborative colleague, progressive in police practices and even-keeled under pressure,” says Laura Hubbard, vice president for finance and administration, who oversees University Police. “His years of experience in the department and his knowledge of law enforcement and the UB community will surely be missed.”
Much has changed on campus since he first started.
“There’s less crime on campus now, but because of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, people feel less safe,” Bartolomei says. “So, it’s our responsibility not just to keep them safe, but to make them feel safe — and that’s much more challenging.”
Students are different, too, he says.
Generally, they’re more well behaved, but more suspicious and critical of police, he says. He also sees students as more fractured and at odds with each other than they once were.
In that sense, Bartolomei’s calm, steady presence has been so valuable, says Sharon Nolan-Weiss, director of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
“The population that University Police services is incredibly diverse, and this requires that UPD leadership have strong interpersonal skills and cultural competence,” says Nolan-Weiss, who has worked closely with Bartolomei on campus issues. “Chris’ leadership has been characterized by empathy and a respect for differing perspectives, which he has consistently maintained in even the most challenging situations.”
Bartolomei always made sure the safety and well-being of the entire university community were front and center in everything University Police did, says John Della Contrada vice president for communications, who has also worked closely with Bartolomei in responding to incidents affecting the campus.
“Chris created a culture within UPD that emphasized building strong relationships with people across the university in order to understand their needs and best serve them,” Della Contrada says. “He leaves the department well-positioned to carry on that mission of service and responsiveness.”
Bartolomei, 58, says he isn’t so much retiring as he is turning the page to his next chapter.
In the short term, Bartolomei — an outdoorsman who likes boating in the summer and skiing in the winter — is looking forward to finishing the cabin he’s building near Ellicottville. It will be a nice place to spend time with the family — wife, Megan; daughter, Lucia, a UB student; and son, Aidan, an emergency medical technician.
In the long term, Bartolomei isn’t quite sure what’s next for him, but he would like to use his experience and remain in public service.
At this point, he says, it probably won’t be as a civics teacher.